October 26, 2010

Discuss the Lotus Sutra

In the third part of the discussion series, "Buddhist History for Buddhist Practitioners," Princeton's Jacqueline Stone discusses the Lotus Sutra:

Q: What is the Lotus Sutra about? In it we read how to hear the sutra, how to preach the sutra, who was gathered to hear it preached, what happened before it was preached, why it is so important, how it was preached in the past, what will happen in the future to those who hear it, and so on. It is like an extravagant preamble to an event that never seems to arrive.

A: Some scholars of the Lotus Sutra have noted just that point, and I think it is a fair reading. If we just read the sutra, and set aside later interpretations, one thing we see going on is that the sutra is establishing its own authority. For example, at the beginning the Buddha emerges from meditation and begins to preach spontaneously, and not, as is usually the case, in response to a question. He says that he will soon enter final nirvana, and so he is now going to preach the true and unsurpassed dharma. The text suggests that not only is this the final teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha, or the historical Buddha, it is the final teaching given by all buddhas before they enter nirvana. It is, in other words, the final word on Buddhism.

Read more and discuss the Lotus Sutra here.

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Dominic Gomez's picture

One aspect of this sutra that seems rarely touched upon is its full title: "Saddharma-pundarika sutra" in Sanskrit, "Miao-fa Lion-hua ching" in Chinese, "The Sutra of the Lotus of the Wonderful Law" in English. Specifically, the "wonderful law" being alluded to. What is this "law"? Are all 28 chapters of the sutra actually just descriptions of this "law"? What does this "law" look like in real life? How can we identify it?

One reading of the Lotus Sutra is that a "buddha" (or THE Buddha) is none other than the human being him- or herself. As well, that nirvana is none other than the reality of life itself, i.e. "samsara". IOW, "enlightenment" (i.e. indestructible happiness) is incomplete without the attendant joy of simply being alive, well and without discomfort in the here and now.

TheBuddhaWay's picture

I think the most overlooked truth when it comes to the Lotus Sutra is not just that the Lotus Sutra sermon is simply a non-verbal transmission of the "highest truth", but together with this, also that that "highest truth" is in fact NOT the final word on the Dharma. It's only the final word for us human beings at a specific point in our evolutionary history, which may very well have already passed or be about to.