Howdy, Stranger!

It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!

Examples: Monday, today, last week, Mar 26, 3/26/04
Welcome home! Please contact lincoln@newbuddhist.com if you have any difficulty logging in or using the site. New registrations must be manually approved which may take up to 48 hours. Can't log in? Try clearing your browser's cookies.

Thoughts on the Lotus Sutra

KeromeKerome Love, love is mysteryThe Continent Veteran
edited October 2019 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.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotus_Sutra

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 buddhas. 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 buddhas. This talks of the eternal nature of the buddhas. 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.

adamcrossley

Comments

  • 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 2019

    All beings have the potential to become buddhas. 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.

    lobsteradamcrossley
  • 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.

    lobsteradamcrossleyKerome
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran
    edited October 2019

    Thank you @Vimalajāti for that, it’s interesting to see where such sutras 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

    adamcrossley
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran
    edited October 2019

    I would have been interested in your deep dive @lionduck ...

    The impression i am getting from a lot of Mahāyāna sutras is that they were written later, and are more stories and not so closely related to the Buddha as a real person.

    adamcrossley
  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Given that Mahayana Buddhism arose over 100 years after the Buddha's passing into Parinibbana, that's hardly surprising...

  • adamcrossleyadamcrossley Veteran UK Veteran

    I read a great introduction to the Lotus Sutra by Gene Reeves. From what I understand, the first mention of the text was by Nagarjuna around 200 CE in India. But almost nothing is known about its exact origins. It was translated into Chinese several times, but most prominently in 406. Those Chinese translations are now the oldest versions of the text that can be found. The originals, in Sanskrit or some other Indian language, are unfortunately lost.

    I'll flick through the introduction again and see if I can extract any gems.

    [The Lotus Sutra's] main thrust is to encourage readers to understand themselves in certain ways. [...] It teaches, for example, that everyone without exception has the potential to be a buddha. This simple teaching would later develop into doctrines and theories about Buddha-nature. But in this text what we actually have is not so much a doctrine as a series of stories, narratives that appeal to the human imagination as well as to the rational mind. The story of Devadatta, for example, tells us nothing at all about the historical Devadatta, but it encourages us to understand that just as Devadatta, everywhere known to be evil, is told that he is to become a buddha, so we too, no matter how imperfect, have the potential to become a buddha. We also need to understand that this story teaches us that a buddha is one who sees the potential for good in others, even enemies.

    The Devadatta story is followed immediately by the very interesting story of the dragon princess, a little girl whom Manjushri Bodhisattva proclaims to be capable of becoming a buddha immediately. This story was obviously intended to persuade monks, who would have been its only early auditors and readers, that women as well as men have the potential of being buddhas, common prejudice and informed opinion to the contrary.

    The idea in this sutra that everyone has the abillity to become a buddha gave rise to the association of the sutra with the notion of Buddha-nature as found in somewhat later Mahayana sutras. [...] It is also a very clever way to answer the question of how it is possible for one to overcome obstacles, however conceived, along the path of becoming a buddha. If ordinary human beings are completely under the sway of passions and delusions, by what power can they break through such a net of limitations? Some say that it is only by one's own strength; one can be saved only by oneself. Others say that it is only by the power of Amida Buddha or perhaps Guan-yin that one can be led to awakening. The Lotus Sutra says that it is by a power that is at once one's own and Shakyamuni Buddha's.

    Even more influential is the story of Never Disrespectful Bodhisattva in chapter 20. This bodhisattva did not read and recite sutras but simply went around telling everyone he met that they would become buddhas. Often despised for this, he persisted in refusing to be disrespectful to anyone. Later, after hearing the Lotus Sutra from the sky, he was able to enjoy a large following and eventually became Shakyamuni Buddha. What's most important, these stories seem to say, is not which religious practices you follow but how you treat others. To do good, in other words, is to follow the bodhisattva way.

    Throughout the sutra many traditional Buddhist doctrines are mentioned and sometimes discussed, especially the four holy truths, the eightfold path, the twelve-link chain of causes and conditions, and the six transcendental practices. Thus it is possible to interpret the sutra as having the purpose of overcoming suffering. Such basically negative goals as overcoming suffering, getting rid of attachments, becoming free from faults, dispelling illusion, and so on are not to be disparaged. They do describe very important Buddhist goals. But at least for the Lotus Sutra they are not enough. Beyond them is always a positive goal.

    Over and over we are told that a result of hearing even a small part of the sutra is joy. And we are allowed to witness the great joy of Shariputra when he realizes that he too is a bodhisattva on the way to becoming a buddha.

    Another equally important term is "peace." "It is not my intent," the Buddha says in chapter 3, "to lead people to extinction. I am the king of the Dharma, free to teach the Dharma, appearing in the world to bring peace and comfort to all the living."

    What I take from this is that the Lotus Sutra is a foundational text for three vital Mahayana beliefs:

    • Firstly, everyone has the potential to become a buddha, neither by relying totally on a supernatural power nor totally on oneself, but by the "middle way" of Buddha-nature which is the power of the Buddha inherent in all of us. This is both inspirational, encouraging faith in our own practice, and a reason to see the best in others and treat them ethically.
    • Secondly, we should appreciate the many "skillful means" of Buddhist practice. Whether we are Theravada (seeking individual arhatship), Pure Land (engaging in devotion, seeking a better afterlife), or Zen (practising to realize enlightenment right here, right now), as long as we treat others well and do good in the world, we are on the bodhisattva path.
    • And thirdly, the way Theravada Buddhism is sometimes communicated portrays the Buddha's teachings as largely negative—giving up this, overcoming that—whereas in reality what they offer is joy and peace.

    Even though the Lotus Sutra has been interpreted as putting Mahayana Buddhism above Theravada, I see it more as a reframing of the older teachings in a more positive light that had perhaps become lost in some parts of the Theravada world. I'm sorry for the extremely long post, but I felt that parts of this introduction were well worth sharing. @Kerome, I hope you find something useful there.

    federicaKeromeShoshinLionduck
  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Great post, @adamcrossley ...

  • adamcrossleyadamcrossley Veteran UK Veteran

    Thank you, @federica. It was very helpful for me to read that introduction again. I'm sorry, by the way, that you feel the forum is not bustling with activity right now. I for one very much enjoy being here and am not going anywhere. Your moderation is not in vain!

  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Maybe it needs a facelift.... Nip here, tuck there, bit of botox....

    adamcrossleyKerome
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    Its a very interesting introduction @adamcrossley. The fact that the Lotus Sutra introduces a series of positive goals is something I hadn’t seen before, and it sheds some new light on why it is thought of as a key sutra.

    I think you’re right to see it as a reframing of some of the earlier teachings, but it also speaks very much to the faith mind, and not so much to the analytical mind. So if that is what you connect to, it is a Sutra that will speak to you more.

  • adamcrossleyadamcrossley Veteran UK Veteran

    I should clarify, I just quoted extracts from the introduction. The full thing is much longer and well worth reading. Sorry, I’m not sure that was clear in my initial post.

  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Veteran Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited February 6

    So this post was a long time coming, apologies if this is now considered a necropost. This post is also much too long, so it will be coming in parts.

    The Lotus Sūtra is a foundational Mahāyāna text whose influence is felt throughout the world etc., etc. You can find all manner of praise for this sūtra spread all over the internet, but what is it actually about? What happens in it? What Buddhist teachings are found in it?

    I came to Buddhism through Buddhisms that grew out of the Lotus Sūtra, first practicing with the Buddhist Church of Canada, a Jōdo Shinshū-affiliated group of temples, then through a Tendai saṁgha when I moved deeper into the country, away from Toronto.

    So I've been exposed to what is called "Lotus Buddhism" for most of my time as a Buddhist, coupled with the prevalent influence of Sōka Gakkai in the Toronto Buddhist scene and its associated Nichiren-derived "Lotus Buddhism." Lotus Buddhism can be considered an umbrella term for the schools which grow out of the East Asian sūtra-school Tiāntāi that I mentioned above. This school grew out of a series of exegete patriarchs who all traced themselves back to Venerable Zhìyǐ, mentioned also above.

    I'm not the best person, perhaps, so laud the Lotus Sūtra, because although I have a great deal of affection for it, and although I think that it has something profound to say to those for whom it is a message, having been exposed to this sūtra for a number of years (and in my opinion perhaps having read more of it than some other Lotus Buddhists) I have to say that this is not my favourite Buddhist sūtra. I think there are far more foundational and important Mahāyāna scriptures. The Buddhāvataṁsaka is actually my favourite sūtra, but I'll save that for the OP's other thread.

    Not all of the Lotus Sūtra is pleasant. We can turn to the Sukhavihāraparitarta, called "Peaceful Practices," Chapter 14 of the free translation by Burton Watson at NichirenLibrary, for all manner of curious bodhisattva precept. Note the proscription on close association with jugglers --

    Further, they [i.e. the bodhisattvas] should not associate closely with rulers, princes, high ministers or heads of offices, or with those who compose works of secular literature, critics of poetry, or with writers of books extolling the heretics, and not with hazardous amusement, boxing or wrestling, clowns, and various jugglers or with actors or others engaging in various kinds of illusionary entertainment, or with persons engaged in raising pigs, sheep, chickens or dogs, or those who engage in hunting or fishing or those with evil conduct.

    -- what did jugglers do to deserve to be lumped together with actors?

    Levity aside, and sidestepping the more concerning likely homophobic overtones of other bodhisattva proscriptions in that same part of the text, and some more than sexist ones in other parts, there are also some profound sections of the Lotus Sūtra that I would like to introduce readers to, if they are not already familiar.

    When dealing with commentarial material from the Lotus Sūtra, we find it unevenly distributed. The Lotus Sūtra is a series of fables and miracles, with one rather major miracle depicted in the middle, the disclosing of the so-called Tathāgatāyuṣpramāṇa, the "True Axiom of the Thus Come's Lifespan," also called the Juryō-hon in denominations that use Japanese. The miracle in question was referred to by Venerable Nichiren as the "Ceremony in the Air," and that strikes me as as good a name as any. There is much more commentarial material on this than, say, the Universal Gateway of Avalokiteśvara, one of the later devotional sections of the sūtra.

    Leading up to this event, the Buddha gives a series of fables outlining the exhaustiveness of his methodologies and their constant appropriateness to the task at hand: the liberation of sentient beings. There is the fable of the Burning House, wherein the Buddha explains that he appears to teach in three disparate Buddha vehicles, but in fact teaches only the one Buddha vehicle. This is a foundational anti-sectarian teaching in Mahāyāna, even though other parts of the Lotus Sūtra may not seem entirely coherent with this message.

    There is also the fable of the lost son, wherein a son is given an inheritance, only to squander his immediate instalment of it on fleeting pleasures, losing his money and losing himself to wild roamings. For countless years, he scours the landscape until, destitute and desperate, he comes to a mansion, where the kindly elderly lord of the manor takes him in and gives him employment. He works for the kindly master and applies himself until he has risen up in the household, onto to have it eventually revealed that the kindly master is none other than the son's father.

    The son thought of his past poverty, his outlook humble, now having from the father a treasure harvest and also the father's house and all his wealth. What great joy, to have what was never before had.

    (Lotus Sūtra, Aupamyaparivarta, Ch. 3, "Fable," T264.150b16)

    Of course, "what was never before had" was always had all along, namely his inheritance. And this becomes a metaphor for Buddhadharma itself that will echo in the later more spectacular parts of the scripture: gaining that which was previous possessed, anew. What exactly is it that is "gained" in bodhi? "Precisely nothing," says some.

    While Śākyamuni Buddha teaches the grandiose mythohistorical assembly that is part-and-parcel to Mahāyāna sūtras, they are startled by a sudden hullaballoo from amidst the congregation.

    Then, in front of the Lord, arose a stūpa, consisting of seven precious substances, from a spot on the Earth. In the middle of the Lord's assembly, the stūpa of five hundred yojanas in height and of proportionate circumference, arose and stood up in the sky. It was aglitter, very beautiful, shining in various ways, nicely decorated with five hundreds of thousands of terraces with railings attached with flower ornaments, adorned with many hundreds of thousands of garlands of jewels, hung with hundreds of thousands of pieces of cloth and bells, with hundreds of thousands of ringing bells, emitting the fragrance of mangosteen and sandalwood, whose scent filled the whole world. The stūpa's rows of spires, made of seven precious substances — namely, gold, silver, lapis lazuli, sapphire, emerald, red coral, and chrysoberyl, rose as high as the divine palaces of the Four Great Kings.

    From the jewelled stūpa, then, the following voice issued forth: "Excellent, excellent, O Lord Śākyamuni! You have well expounded this Dharma Gate of the Lotus of the Good Law. So it is, O Lord!; so it is, O Sugata!

    Then, having seen that great jewelled stūpa which was standing in the sky, the fourfold assembly became thrilled, became delighted, and then they all stood up from their seats, held out their joined hands and remained standing while looking up at the stūpa.

    (Lotus Sūtra, Stūpasaṃdarśanaparivarta, "The Beholding of the Stūpa," T262.32c22, translated by Seishi Karashima, edited by Caoimhghín Aindreás)

    This is the ratnastūpa (the "jewelled reliquary") of Prabhūtaratna Buddha, a Buddha from the inconceivable past. Supposedly, upon his death, his followers erected a great stūpa to house his glorified body in accordance with his instructions. It is revealed that this Buddha, while still a bodhisattva, undertook a heroic oath, that upon death, his ratnastūpa would travel to where the Buddhas preach the Dharma Gate of the Lotus of the Good Law to proclaim them and laud their dispensation.

    Prabhūtaratna Buddha is a mysterious figure. Don't bother looking anything up about him, there isn't anything. This figure might even predate Buddhism, being a relic of ancient Jain or even pre-Vedic śramaṇa stūpa-cults, lost to the past. By the time this figure enters into written history, it is as a figure whose chief function is to laud and celebrate Śākyamuni Buddha and the Dharma Gate of the White Lotus of the Good Law.

    In many ways, Prabhūtaratna Buddha reminds me of the equally mysterious Brahmā Sahampatti from the Pāḷi Canon [continued in next post, give me a second to edit]

    Bunks
  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Veteran Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited February 6

    In many ways, Prabhūtaratna Buddha reminds me of the equally mysterious Brahmā Sahampatti from the Pāḷi Canon:

    Then it occurred to me, 'This principle I have discovered is deep, hard to see, hard to understand, peaceful, sublime, beyond the scope of reason, subtle, comprehensible to the astute. But people like attachment, they love it and enjoy it. It’s hard for them to see this thing; that is, specific conditionality, dependent origination. It’s also hard for them to see this thing; that is, the stilling of all activities, the letting go of all attachments, the ending of craving, fading away, cessation, extinguishment. And if I were to teach the Dhamma, others might not understand me, which would be wearying and troublesome for me.’

    And then these verses, which were neither supernaturally inspired, nor learned before in the past, occurred to me:

    ‘I’ve struggled hard to realize this,
    enough with trying to explain it!
    This teaching is not easily understood
    by those mired in greed and hate.
    Those caught up in greed can’t see
    what’s subtle, going against the stream,
    deep, hard to see, and very fine,
    for they’re shrouded in a mass of darkness.’

    So, as I reflected like this, my mind inclined to remaining passive, not to teaching the Dhamma. Then Brahmā Sahampati, knowing what I was thinking, thought,

    ‘Oh my goodness! The world will be lost, the world will perish! For the mind of the Realized One, the perfected one, the fully awakened Buddha, inclines to remaining passive, not to teaching the Dhamma.’

    Then, as easily as a strong person would extend or contract their arm, he vanished from the Brahmā realm and reappeared in front of the Buddha. He arranged his robe over one shoulder, knelt on his right knee, raised his joined palms toward the Buddha, and said,

    ‘Sir, let the Blessed One teach the Dhamma! Let the Holy One teach the Dhamma! There are beings with little dust in their eyes. They’re in decline because they haven’t heard the teaching. There will be those who understand the teaching!’

    That’s what Brahmā Sahampati said. Then he went on to say:

    ‘Among the Magadhans there appeared in the past
    an impure teaching thought up by those still stained.
    Fling open the door to the deathless!
    Let them hear the teaching the immaculate one discovered.
    Standing high on a rocky mountain,
    you can see the people all around.
    In just the same way, all-seer, wise one,
    ascend the palace built of Dhamma!
    You’re free of sorrow; but look at these people
    overwhelmed with sorrow, oppressed by rebirth and old age.
    Rise, hero! Victor in battle, leader of the caravan,
    wander the world without obligation.
    Let the Blessed One teach the Dhamma!
    There will be those who understand!’

    Then, understanding Brahmā’s invitation, I surveyed the world with the eye of a Buddha, because of my compassion for sentient beings.

    (Pāsarāsisutta, "The Noble Search," MN 26, translated by Venerable Sujāto)

    Brahmā Sahampatti serves as a catalyst for Śākyamuni's teaching -- a curious episode. Why on earth would the Buddha's heart be "inclined to remaining passive [and] not to teaching the Dhamma?" More than one Buddhist has asked this curious question regarding this odd passage in which a deva, albeit a high and mighty one, must prod the Buddha to action instead of the Buddha's own compassion. It should be noted that this episode from the Pāli nikāyas lacks parallels in the currently extant āgamas preserved in Chinese of the Sarvāstivāda. If readers at NewBuddhist do not know what all that jargon refers to, we can make a thread on EBT studies. I don't know how exposed to that people on this forum are in general. Āgamas aside, the episode does find a parallel in the Mahāyāna Lalita­vistarasūtra at Chapter 23, the Exhortation.

    And here is where one of the stumbling blocks of all Buddhist scriptures for moderns come to fore: who are these old gods no one really worships anymore and why do they matter? To which we can add: what's with all these ancient Buddhas from the distant remote past?

    Polytheistic gods are often known via interpretation: be that interpretation interpretatio graeca, romana, germanica, etc. There is even a Japanese-Vedic correspondence of deities mapped out for Japanese tantra which uses conventionally Vedic/Indic/Hindu gods. In addition to this, we find multiple different gods often absorbed into modalities of other gods.

    So in addition to a "Zeus," we can have a Zeus Aegiduchos, a Zeus Agoraeus, a Zeus Kasios, and a Zeus Helioupolites, some of these conventionally different gods, all known through the same general name-epithet: Zeus. The same is with Viṣṇu: Ksirodakaśāyī Viṣṇu, Nārasiṁha Viṣṇu and Viśvarūpa Viṣṇu.

    The same, it would seem, happens in the Indian polytheism that Buddhism grew up in, with its many Brahmās. Brahmā Sahampati is some deity identified as "Sahaṁ Patiḥ," or "Lord of the Aggregation," the "aggregation/sahaṁ" here referring to the sahaṁ in sahālokadhātu, the "aggregated world-system." This is likely a chief god of a Indian pantheon somewhere near where the Buddha preached, or if this is a later addition, the god of some society that converted to Buddhism. It is a propaganda story, one could argue, as is the Beholding of the Jewelled Reliquary in the Lotus Sūtra. Both are propagation tales.

    "I don't know about that Gautama, he teaches some strange stuff."

    "Well, I hear the Great God, Lord Firstborn Brahmā, Lord of the Universe, himself begged him to teach."

    "Interesting story, maybe I'll hear more."

    One can see how such a story would function, particularly if Brahmā Sahampati was close to the hearts of many village grandmothers, and if piety ran deep in the community. What do we make of Brahmā Sahampati today? Not much. I take it the Pāsarāsisutta isn't high on anyone's go-to must-read sutta index. But the story clearly had a profound importance and role some time in the past, hence the inclusion of Brahmā Sahampati into the Buddhavacana when he is absent from the Life of the Buddha as known by the Sarvāstivādins. Prabhūtaratna Buddha is not a deva strictly speaking, but one might be forgiven to make the mistake on seeing them. The Lotus Sūtra arises out of the cultural milieu of the stūpa cultus, and past śramaṇa sages, Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike (Buddhist, Jains, and Hindus all have stūpas), were venerated at these stūpas.

    Just like which particular instantiation of High God, Ruler of All, Sahaṁ Patiḥ, that Brahmā Sahampati represents, it is difficult to know which śramaṇa, their identity long-lost to time, that Prabhūtaratna Buddha is a memory of. Clearly he had a massive following and his name commanded tremendous spiritual weight. The Lotus Sūtra talks up Prabhūtaratna as an impossibly grand Buddha. Like I said before, both are propagation tales, but IMO, and hopefully I can demonstrate, the Lotus Sūtra has something deeper in mind with this episode.

    Returning back to the sudden manifestation of the ratnastūpa at the assembly of the Buddha, the Buddha explains to the assembly the cause for the beholding of the stūpa on this wonderous occasion, namely the Buddhic Vow of Prabhūtaratna:

    "This Prabhūtaratna Buddha had a profound oath he swore: "When this, my ratnastūpa, to witness the opening of the Dharma Gate of the White Lotus of the Good Law, goes before the many Buddhas, if there is the desiring that my body might be revealed to the four communities, may those Buddhas' variegated bodies, the many Buddhas one by one in the ten-directional world system expounding the Dharma, return, gathering in one place, and truly thereafter my body will appear visible.

    Having acclaimed thus, Śākyamuni turns to his interlocutor:

    "Mahāpratibhāna, my variegated bodies, the many Buddhas one by one who are in the ten-directional world system expounding the Dharma, presently now will gather."

    (Lotus Sūtra T262.32c22 Stūpasaṁdarśanaparivarta The Beholding of the Stūpa)

    Thus follows the Enthronement, the Ceremony in the Air, and the Lifespan Exegesis, three stories that make up the centre of the Lotus Sūtra, three impossible episodes pointing symbolically to the ultimate possibility: Buddhahood.

    In the Enthronement, Prabhūtaratna Buddha entreats Śākyamuni Buddha to enter his jewelled reliquary, where they share one seat together in the "one vehicle" of the ratnastūpa.

    In the Ceremony in the Air, the Buddha, from within the ratnastūpa, levitates the assembly and the stūpa into the clouds, and they collectively witness the kāmadhātu, this desire realm, and the rest of the three worlds of saṁsāra transformed into a Pure Land of radiance, peace, purity, and calm by the Buddha. The Buddha acclaims "this land" as his Pure Land.

    From the air, above the rarified and purified reality, Śākyamuni proclaims the "True Axiom of the Thus-Come-One's Lifespan:"

    Always living here proclaiming the Dharma,
    I always live here.
    Through many godly powers,
    I lead into error sentient beings:
    although close by,
    I am not seen.
    Many see me,
    I pass into extinction,
    widely they worship my ashes,
    sweetly, their hearts, each and every,
    wishing to look upon my heart with reverence.
    When someone becomes faithfully obedient,
    noble in heart,
    soft and gentle,
    and with oneness of heart,
    wishes to see the Buddha,
    with no hesitations,
    and with no illusions about this world,
    and this life,
    then I and the assembly,
    entirely without exception,
    have appeared on the Vulture Peak.
    (Lotus Sūtra, Tathāgatāyuṣpramāṇaparivarta, T262.43b10)

    This is held by many as the central point of the Lotus Sūtra. [continued in next post, give me a second to edit]

  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Veteran Whitby, Ontario Veteran

    As part of the oath of Prabhūtaratna, it is said that "if there is the desiring that [Prabhūtaratna's] body might be revealed to the four communities," then "the variegated bodies" of "the many Buddhas, one by one, in the ten-directional world system expounding the Dharma [will] return, gathering in one place," and with this it is said that "truly thereafter [Prabhūtaratna's] body will appear visible."

    What happens then? Śākyamuni Buddha says to Mahāpratibhāna, "My variegated bodies, the many Buddhas, one by one, who are in the ten-directional world system expounding the Dharma, presently now will gather." And lo and behold, every single Buddha in the universe shows up. I don't mean to present this as a silly event. Surely though, it is blatantly impossible. I want to turn to a moment to some words of out-of-context contextualization that I find very illuminating, from the Venerable Śravaka Sujāto, on the logic-defying chronology of Mahāyāna sūtras, in this case that of the Diamond Sūtra:

    The Mahayana Sutras position themselves in a mythic time. The essence of mythic time is the idea that “these things never were, but always are”. Less poetically, myth speaks of “timeless truths”, things that constantly recur. Because they are timeless, we don’t need to have a historical source for them: they must have happened, regardless of what the evidence might say. The Diamond Sutra, as is the way of mythic storytelling, claims to be set in the distant past, but the text hints at its true historical context. It discusses the question of what happens after 500 years, when according to the early tradition the sasana would come to an end. The Diamond Sutra gets around this by saying that the Bodhisattvas will continue to sustain the sasana. The real concern of the Diamond Sutra is the state of Buddhism in India 500 years after the Buddha.

    (Venerable Sujāto, SuttaCentral post, November 2017)

    What matters is the symbol, is the story, and isn't the timeline, and therein lies the heart of the Lotus Sūtra, a text about symbols, stories, and fables in an already-established Buddhist religious milieu versus Buddhavacana from the early establishment of the first monastic saṁgha and the development of the milieu.

    The many Buddhas of the world-system are described as the variegated bodies of Śākyamuni Buddha, each an emanation of the root teacher, emanation here meaning "originate from; be produced by." Through his expounding of the Dharma, Śākyamuni originates the Buddhahood of all sentient beings in the world-system of his dispensation, and he is depicted like a father, producing countless Buddha sons. There is a deeper level to this still. The Dharmakāya of the Buddhas is undifferentiated, and so it can be said to be singular. To quote the Buddhāvataṁsakasūtra, "All Buddhas are one Buddha." All Buddhas as constituting a variegated body of Śākyamuni's is a way of expressing this principle. Furthermore, there is another way to view this image. In this sea of divergent features and estranged characteristics, one sentient being here, one being there, be them Buddha or bodhisattva or uninstructed worldling, how could anyone, in that great variegated mass, find the characteristics and marks we normally associate with the Buddha? A body, a speech, a mind, a single being, a root guru, a teacher. The Buddha is a singular man, not a hoard of endless beings. This category dissonance between "mass of Buddhas from the ten directions" and "the particular Buddha Śākyamuni" is anticipated in the Mahāyāna question of "Where do we look to find the marks (lakṣāṇa) of Buddhahood?" How do we find it, in short? How do we find "him," in short?

    “Subhūti, what do you think? Can the Tathāgata be observed by means of the Thirty-two Marks [lakṣaṇa]?” Subhūti replied, “Thusly, thusly, with the Thirty-two Marks the Tathāgata is to be observed.” The Buddha said, “Subhūti, if the Tathāgata could be observed by means of the Thirty-two Marks, then a cakravartin king would be a Tathāgata.” Subhūti addressed the Buddha, saying, “Bhagavān, thus do I explain the meaning of what the Buddha has said. One should not observe the Tathāgata by means of the Thirty-two Marks.”

    (Diamond Sūtra, T235.752a11, Venerable Yifa translation)

    The sūtras further elaborate that we observe the Buddha by way of his Dharmakāya, not the Rūpakāya.

    “Enough, Vakkali! Why do you want to see this foul body? One who sees the Dhamma sees me; one who sees me sees the Dhamma. For in seeing the Dhamma, Vakkali, one sees me; and in seeing me, one sees the Dhamma."

    (Vakkalisutta, "With Vakkali," SN 22.87, Ven Sujāto translation)

    The Dharmakāya of the Buddha, in addition to being the "Body of Truth" or the "Body of the Teaching," is the Body of Emptiness, that which is identical to emptiness and associated deep non-attachment -- luminous and blissful. In East Asian Buddhism, the Dharmakāya is identified with the "True Aspect" (真性) spoken of in Eastern Madhyamaka philosophy:

    If you search for the true aspect of dharmas, you will find that they all enter into ultimate meaning and become equal, with identical aspects, which is to say no aspects, just like streams of different colour and different tastes entering into a great ocean of one colour and one taste.

    (Venerable Vimalākṣa, 中論, "The Treatise on the Middle," T1564.24a15, translation Christopher Bocking)

    Dharmakāya, the realized Nirvāṇa, is like those colours and tastes, like all those myriad dharmas, like the countless Buddhas constituting the "body" of Śākyamuni Buddha.

    The Buddhas of the past, future and present are equal, because the dharmakāya is one.

    (Tathāgatotpattisambhavanirdeśasūtra, "Discourse on the Arising and Manifestation of the Tathāgata," T291, translation by Guang Xin)

    When this, my ratnastūpa, to witness the opening of the Dharma Gate of the White Lotus of the Good Law, goes before the many Buddhas, if there is the desiring that my body might be revealed to the four communities, may those Buddhas' variegated bodies, the many Buddhas one by one in the ten-directional world system expounding the Dharma, return, gathering in one place, and truly thereafter my body will appear visible.

    (Lotus Sūtra T262.32c22 Stūpasaṁdarśanaparivarta)

    Fulfilling Prabhūtaratna's prophetic oath (it's awfully handy to fulfil prophecies when they emerge from the same text they are fulfilled in!), when Śākyamuni Buddha performs this magical feat, Prabhūtaratna Buddha emerges from the jewelled reliquary, his body appears visible, and he bids Śākyamuni be enthroned aside him in the ratnastūpa.

    Then is the Enthronement. [continued in next post, give me a second to edit]

  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Veteran Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited February 6

    The Enthronement is a statement on duality and non-duality, on conventional functions and underlying ultimate essences, and it is ultimately a representation of the two truths in the enthroned Prabhūtaratna and Śākyamuni Buddhas. A moment ago, I mentioned East Asian Madhyamaka, which is also known as Sānlùn (三論), or the "Three Treatises" school because of their high regard for three particular śāstras, treatises, on Venerable Nāgārjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā. East Asian Madhyamaka is foundational for understanding the way that Buddhists in East Asia, where the Lotus Sūtra is most revered, have traditionally read this text and interfaced with it.

    We all know the two truths of the Buddha, of Madhyamaka, of Abhidharma but, through the filter of East Asia, Madhyamaka takes on a new flavour, more sparsely presented than in the voluminous technical tomes of the Svātantrikas and Prāsaṅgikas. This short but dense pericope from Venerable Jízàng's Dvasatyaśāstra will be important here, and I am going to take a moment to brake it down. This was Venerable Zhìyǐ's Madhyamaka, if that helps clarify why I think this momentary interlude from the plot is relevant:

    It is time to speak of two truths, two truths fashioned from the difference between two views. These two truths equally are missed. How? To those who grasp at existence, to those sentient beings, one speaks the absolute truth. To those who grasp at emptiness, to those sentient beings, one speaks the relative truth. In this way, through 'is' and 'is not' equally, sentient beings are grasping. Consequently, all misconceive. It is time to speak of two comprehensions which are not two. These two truths equally attained. How? Because these two comprehensions are not two. Two is the principle's teaching. Not two is the teaching's principle. Two is the middle's designation. Not two is the designation's middle. Two is the essence's function. Not two is the function's essence.

    (Venerable Jízàng, 二諦義, "Exegesis on the Two Truths," T1854.81c28)

    In East Asian metaphysics, we can speak of a pair, namely that of essence and function, and yòng, presented in the term 體用, which is then presented in Buddhist Hybrid English as "essence-function."

    Here is a paper, if anyone feels academically inclined: http://www.acmuller.net/articles/2016-06-tiyong-critical-review.pdf

    "Essence-function" is a paradigm that describes the workings of something versus the underlying principle that allows it to have workings. A classic essence-function pair stipulates "hard" as the essence of "sharp" and "sharp" as a function of "hard."

    In light of this, we can turn to a cursory review of Ven Jízàng. The two truths he speaks of are the relative and ultimate, as can be gleaned from the above source. The relative and the ultimate are generally regarded as two different "things," two different truths, two different true perspectives, one from the perspective of the unawakened sentient being, one from the perspective of ultimate emptiness, of nirvāṇa. I want to focus on the ending of the passage, as it relates to essence-function, and as it relates to duality and non-duality. The two that are presented here are the truths of the relative and the ultimate. "Two" is representative of duality, or plurality, in Ven Jízàng's passage here. "Not two" is, accordingly, non-duality.

    Two is the principle's teaching. Not two is the teaching's principle. Two is the middle's designation. Not two is the designation's middle. Two is the essence's function. Not two is the function's essence.

    Two is the principle's teaching -- a disparity between the two truths gives rise to the 84,000 dharma gates, the three Buddha vehicles, and the manifold needs of sentient beings, which itself is the varied and many diverse teachings of the Buddha.

    Not two is the teaching's principle -- a indistinguishability between the two truths is the underlying principle that supports the Gateless Gate (T2005.292b12) of the one Buddha vehicle, the principle behind the the varied and many diverse teachings of the Buddha.

    Two is the middle's designation -- a disparity between the two truths is the designation, or the naming, of myriad empty dharmas, and is the relative.

    Not two is the designation's middle -- a indistinguishability between the two truths is the emptiness of those dharmas itself, and is the ultimate.

    Two is the essence's function -- a disparity between the two truths is the functioning, the instantiation, the particularity, and the conceived fruit of the unarisen empty existence.

    Not two is the function's essence -- a indistinguishability between the two truths is the essence, the basis, and the root of the unarisen empty existence.

    It is like the opening of the Dàodéjīng:

    The way that is walked is not the eternal way. The name that is named is not the eternal name. Without a name, it is the wellspring of heaven and earth; named, it is the mother of the ten thousand things.

    (Dàodéjīng 1)

    When the name is named, is made into a function, and as a result the "ten thousand things" come about (a Chinese expression equivalent to sarvadharma or "all phenomena [come about]"). When the name is unnamed, is as its essence and not its function, it is the wellspring of heaven and earth, which the Taoists see in contradistinction to the ten thousand things. If this doesn't make sense, we should all talk about it, because things are only going to get wilder from here.

    The many variegated Buddhas of the Ten Directions are functions of Śākyamuni. Śākyamuni is the essence of the Buddhas of the Ten Directions. We explored this in the post directly above this, when Śākyamuni Buddha gathered together all of the Buddhas of the world-system to circumambulate Prabhūtaratna's stūpa, and the "body appear[ed] visible," that body being the essence, the underlying principle, of the Buddhas, the Dharma Body/dharmakāya, represented as it were by the mythologized historical Ascetic Gautama. It is important to note that image as well: all gathered around the stūpa. This and passages like it are what lead scholars to believe that the Lotus Sūtra was produced by a stūpa-venerating Buddhist cultus between 200BC and 200AD.

    Relating to this "body [that] will appear visible," this dharmakāya-essence undergirding the many Buddhas, in esoteric exegesis of the Lotus Sūtra by the Tendai school, Prabhūtaratna is understood as an identity of the Buddha Mahāvairocana, an expedient personification of the dharmakāya itself. This is foreshadowed in many ways in the circumstance of the sūtra. Prabhūtaratna is a Buddha whose oath causes the coming together of the variegated bodies of the Buddha, from parts to whole, from functions to essence. In turn, as dharmakāya personified, Mahāvairocana is the underlying essence of all Buddhas. To requote the Tathāgatotpattisambhavanirdeśasūtra once more, "The Buddhas of the past, future and present are equal, because the dharmakāya is one."

    Dharmakāya Mahāvairocana is associated with the emanation of Buddhas, as one would expect from the dharmakāya:

    Now I, Vairocana Buddha, am sitting atop a lotus pedestal; On a thousand flowers surrounding me are a thousand Sakyamuni Buddhas. Each flower supports a hundred million worlds; in each world a Sakyamuni Buddha appears. All are seated beneath a Bodhi-tree, all simultaneously attain Buddhahood. All these innumerable Buddhas have Vairocana as their original body.

    (Brahmājālabodhisattvaśīlasūtra, T21, translation by A. C. Muller)

    When Mahāvairocana (Prabhūtaratna) enthrones Śākyamuni aside him, they share "one seat" in the "one vehicle," and thereby proclaim the "one teaching" or "One Dharma" of the Buddhas. Mahāvairocana is the dharmākaya, identical ultimately with the featureless, with the empty dharmadhātu, with all phenomena. Śākyamuni Buddha, conventionally thought of as a function of Mahāvairocana Buddha, is united completely with Mahāvairocana in their one seat, and they share one essence, 一體, one substance, one embodiment, one principle. There is no longer duality between the rūpakāya and the dharmakāya, as they are now "not two" in their "one seat," and the dharmakāya has become realized. This is a symbolic enactment of awakening itself.

    The pacified mind encounters the dharmadhātu, which is itself, and realizes that which it did not realize before. The mind with one thought encounters that with no thought, saṁsāra, emptiness, nirvāṇa, the dharmadhātu, and truly penetrates to the essence instead of naming functions out of ignorance, and realizes itself to be the dharmakāya, to be the dharmadhātu -- the non-dual vision of the yogi.

    [continued in next post, give me a second to edit]

  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Veteran Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited February 6

    Venerable Nichiren was a Taimitsu (Tendai Tantra) priest before he left Tendai to start his own lay movement of New Kamakura Buddhism. His Tendai education shows through in his Goshos:

    We learn that the true aspect of all phenomena is also the two Buddhas Śākyamuni and Prabhūtaratna [seated together in the ratnastūpa]. “All phenomena” corresponds to Prabhūtaratna, and “the true aspect” corresponds to Śākyamuni. These are also the two elements of reality and wisdom. Prabhūtaratna is reality; Śākyamuni is wisdom. It is enlightenment that reality and wisdom are two, and yet they are not two.

    (Ven Nichiren, WND 1:35, translated by Burton Watson, edited)

    In India, when Śākyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings, was preaching the Lotus Sutra as described in the “Ratnastūpa” chapter, he summoned all the various Buddhas and had them take their seats upon the ground. Only the Thus Come One Mahāvairochana was seated within the ratnastūpa, on the lower seat to the south, while Śākyamuni Buddha was seated on the upper seat to the north.

    This Thus Come One Mahāvairochana is the master of the Mahāvairochana of the Womb Realm described in the Mahāvairochana Sutra, and of the Mahāvairochana of the Diamond Realm described in the Diamond Crown Sutra. This Mahāvairochana, or Prabhūtaratna Buddha, who has as his vassals the Thus Come Ones Mahāvairochana of the two realms just mentioned, is in turn surpassed by Śākyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings, who sits in the seat above him.

    (Ven Nichiren, WND I: 88, translated by Burton Watson, edited)

    The two realms referred to here are the two maṇḍalas at the heart of Tendai and Shingon esotericism: the vajradhātu maṇḍala (the diamond realm) and the garbhakośadhātu (the womb-treasury realm) maṇḍala. We don't have time for a full-on esoteric Tantric reading of the Lotus Sūtra, but these do exist, and are centred around harmonizing the sūtra with two esoteric texts devoted to the dharmakāya Mahāvairocana: the Mahāvairocanābhisaṁbodhisūtra and the Vajraśekharasūtra (also known as the Sarvatathāgatatattvasaṃgrahasūtra). These two realms represent the relative and the ultimate, and are a Tantric technique for the realization of the two truths and their non-duality, that same non-duality acclaim by Venerable Nāgārjuna in his magnum opus:

    Between nirvāna and this world, there is not even a slight disparity.
    Between this world and nirvāṇa, there is also not even a slight disparity
    From nirvāṇa's true apex towards this world's apex,
    like this, there are two apices, and like this, there is not the smallest sliver of disparity between them.

    (Ven Nāgārjuna, Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, "Root Verses on that which Middles," T1564.35c27)

    Shingon preserved this tantra almost exactly the same as Tendai, so if anyone is a bit further interested, they can learn a little bit about it in this documentary on YouTube, "Prilgrimage to Koyasan."

    The short of it is that the vajradhātu is emptiness and the garbhakośadhātu is emptiness unrealized. The vajradhātu is the dharmakāya realized and the garbhakośadhātu is the dharmakāya unrealized. The diamond realm is how things are, the womb realm is how things are, yet without disparity, the womb realm is aflame with saṁsāra and the diamond realm is calmed in nirvāṇa. The non-duality of the vajradhātu, the diamond realm is, and the garbhakośadhatu, the womb realm is, from root proceeding onwards, "that which is constantly under afflictive emotion, without limit, covered. Therefore sentient beings cannot obtain sight of it" (Parinirvāṇasūtra, Tathāgatadhātuparivarta T374.407b6). The non-duality between these two realms, two truths, itself is the tathāgatagarbha and is the dharmakāya.

    The nature and characteristics of the path of suffering, they misunderstand this path of suffering, and saṃsāra remains expansive. This is misunderstanding the dharmakāya as the path of suffering. There is no separate dharmakāya apart from the path of suffering. If one realizes saṃsāra, then it is the dharmakāya. Thus it is said the nature and characteristics of the path of suffering are the nature and characteristics of the dharmakāya.

    (Ven Zhìyǐ, 法华玄义, "The Dharma Flower's Profound Meaning," T1716.743c25-744.a3-7, a Tiāntāi commentary on the Lotus Sūtra)

    This is what was spoken about above, with the words:

    @Vimalajāti said:
    When Mahāvairocana (Prabhūtaratna) enthrones Śākyamuni aside him, they share "one seat" in the "one vehicle," and thereby proclaim the "one teaching" or "One Dharma" of the Buddhas. Mahāvairocana is the dharmākaya, identical ultimately with the featureless, with the empty dharmadhātu, with all phenomena. Śākyamuni Buddha, conventionally thought of as a function of Mahāvairocana Buddha, is united completely with Mahāvairocana in their one seat, and they share one essence, 一體, one substance, one embodiment, one principle. There is no longer duality between the rūpakāya and the dharmakāya, as they are now "not two" in their "one seat," and the dharmakāya has become realized. This is a symbolic enactment of awakening itself.

    The pacified mind encounters the dharmadhātu, which is itself, and realizes that which it did not realize before. The mind with one thought encounters that with no thought, saṁsāra, emptiness, nirvāṇa, the dharmadhātu, and truly penetrates to the essence instead of naming functions out of ignorance, and realizes itself to be the dharmakāya, to be the dharmadhātu -- the non-dual vision of the yogi.

    Some more background reading here would be the Nirvānaparīkṣā from Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, with associated commentaries, which can be found at Chapter 25 of the treatise.

    This all leads us into the Ceremony in the Air.

    [continued in next post, give me a few]

  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Veteran Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited February 6

    Accidental post

  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Veteran Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited February 7

    I still have to do the section on the Ceremony in the Air, then I have to do the Lifespan Exegesis, and then the parable of Venerable Śāriputra and the Dragon's Daughter, so just three chunks left. That's all I planned to write about anyways, and those are the best parts of the sūtra IMO anyways.

    I'll likely have to split the Lifespan Exegesis into two parts, one for Ven Nichiren's specific interpretation of Tendai teachings and one for everyone else's, then I'll be done. I swear!

  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @Vimalajāti said:
    I still have to do the section on the Ceremony in the Air, then I have to do the Lifespan Exegesis, and then the parable of Venerable Śāriputra and the Dragon's Daughter, so just three chunks left. That's all I planned to write about anyways, and those are the best parts of the sūtra IMO anyways.

    You Do realise you don't 'have to' do anything ...don't you...?

    I'll likely have to split the Lifespan Exegesis into two parts, one for Ven Nichiren's specific interpretation of Tendai teachings and one for everyone else's, then I'll be done. I swear!

    Is there a short break for coffee anf biscuits? My bum hurts....

    lobster
  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Veteran Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited February 7

    Well, I have to actually write the sections, so you get a break while that happens. I just had some free time and decided I'd try to write a better guide to the Lotus Sūtra than I've seen out there. Sometimes when I read such guides, I wonder how much the author has read of the actual text. Often the entire discussion is about the Burning House, the first parable in the text! :'(

    @federica said:

    @Vimalajāti said:
    I still have to do the section on the Ceremony in the Air, then I have to do the Lifespan Exegesis, and then the parable of Venerable Śāriputra and the Dragon's Daughter, so just three chunks left. That's all I planned to write about anyways, and those are the best parts of the sūtra IMO anyways.

    You Do realise you don't 'have to' do anything ...don't you...?

    Oh, of course not. I gave myself this undertaking. :)

    federica
  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    One to watch. For those enthralled (No, no sarcasm intended) I strongly suggest bookmarking this thread.
    All kidding aside, @Vimalajāti , this is a stirling effort on your part.

    Well done.

    lobster
  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Veteran Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited February 8

    @Vimalajāti said:
    I don't mean to present this as a silly event. Surely though, it is blatantly impossible. I want to turn to a moment to some words of out-of-context contextualization that I find very illuminating, from the Venerable Śravaka Sujāto, on the logic-defying chronology of Mahāyāna sūtras, in this case that of the Diamond Sūtra:

    The Mahayana Sutras position themselves in a mythic time. The essence of mythic time is the idea that “these things never were, but always are”. Less poetically, myth speaks of “timeless truths”, things that constantly recur. Because they are timeless, we don’t need to have a historical source for them: they must have happened, regardless of what the evidence might say. The Diamond Sutra, as is the way of mythic storytelling, claims to be set in the distant past, but the text hints at its true historical context. It discusses the question of what happens after 500 years, when according to the early tradition the sasana would come to an end. The Diamond Sutra gets around this by saying that the Bodhisattvas will continue to sustain the sasana. The real concern of the Diamond Sutra is the state of Buddhism in India 500 years after the Buddha.

    (Venerable Sujāto, SuttaCentral post, November 2017)

    What matters is the symbol, is the story, and isn't the timeline, and therein lies the heart of the Lotus Sūtra, a text about symbols, stories, and fables in an already-established Buddhist religious milieu versus Buddhavacana from the early establishment of the first monastic saṁgha and the development of the milieu.

    [...]In this sea of divergent features and estranged characteristics, one sentient being here, one being there, be them Buddha or bodhisattva or uninstructed worldling, how could anyone, in that great variegated mass, find the characteristics and marks we normally associate with the Buddha? A body, a speech, a mind, a single being, a root guru, a teacher. The Buddha is a singular man, not a hoard of endless beings. This category dissonance between "mass of Buddhas from the ten directions" and "the particular Buddha Śākyamuni" is anticipated in the Mahāyāna question of "Where do we look to find the marks (lakṣāṇa) of Buddhahood?" How do we find it, in short? How do we find "him," in short?

    “Subhūti, what do you think? Can the Tathāgata be observed by means of the Thirty-two Marks [lakṣaṇa]?” Subhūti replied, “Thusly, thusly, with the Thirty-two Marks the Tathāgata is to be observed.” The Buddha said, “Subhūti, if the Tathāgata could be observed by means of the Thirty-two Marks, then a cakravartin king would be a Tathāgata.” Subhūti addressed the Buddha, saying, “Bhagavān, thus do I explain the meaning of what the Buddha has said. One should not observe the Tathāgata by means of the Thirty-two Marks.”

    (Diamond Sūtra, T235.752a11, Venerable Yifa translation)

    The sūtras further elaborate that we observe the Buddha by way of his Dharmakāya, not the Rūpakāya.

    I don't want to get side-tracked, I'm going to do the very best I can to keep this my one clarification post, but I don't think this point was established, namely that we find the Buddha by way of the dharmakāya, not the rūpakāya. I think I should have included more context from the Diamond Sūtra. From the same translation:

    Chapter 26. The Dharmakāya is Without Appearance (法身非相)

    “Subhūti, what does your mind say? The Tathāgata can be perceived by the thirty-two characteristics, can he not?” Subhūti replied, “So it is, so it is. The Tathāgata is perceived by the thirty-two characteristics.”

    The Buddha said, “Subhūti, if one perceives the Tathāgata by the thirty-two characteristics, then a wheel-turning sage king is the Tathāgata.” Subhūti addressed the Buddha saying, “Lord, as I understand the meaning of what the Buddha has said, the Tathāgata should not be perceived by the thirty-two characteristics.”

    At that time, the Lord spoke this verse:

    If I am seen by sight
    or sought by sound,
    this person walks the wrong path,
    unable to see Tathāgata.

    This is the inspiration for the famous, "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him," koan in Japanese Buddhism. This is from the recension of the Diamond Sūtra that is well-known in East Asia. A minority tradition preserved in Sanskrit gives an extra stanza to the verse section:

    Those who by my form did see me,
    And those who followed me by voice
    Wrong the efforts they engaged in,
    Me those people will not see.

    From the Dharma should one see the Buddhas,
    From the Dharma body comes their guidance.
    Yet Dharma's true nature cannot be discerned,
    And no one can be conscious of it as an object.

    (Diamond Sūtra, Sanskrit recension, translation by Conze)

Sign In or Register to comment.