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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.
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.
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.
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.