Category Archives: LS Introduction

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra

From the Overview

The most complete collection of Buddhist scriptures, the Taisho Edition, consists of 3,497 works. Among them, 1,487 are called sutras, and consist of sermons preached by the Buddha. Among these more than a thousand sutras, the Lotus Sutra, or Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law, is the most popular and best known. When Buddhism was introduced into Japan in the mid-sixth century, Prince Shotoku lectured on this sutra and wrote a book on it called Hokke Gisho (A Commentaty on the Lotus Sutra). About two hundred years later, in the early Heian Period (794-1185), Saicho, who is also known as Great Master Dengyo, established a Buddhist school on Mt. Hiei, whence he propagated the Lotus teachings throughout the country. His school, the Tendai (“Heavenly Terrace”), was for many centuries the most influ ential in the country. …

Nichiren, who also studied the Lotus Sutra there, founded his sect on doctrines resting squarely on faith in the Lotus Sutra. He devoted his whole life to advocating it and putting its teachings into practice. While other Buddhist sects today read it as a supplemental scripture, the Nichiren lineage considers the Lotus Sutra to be its basic text.

This book is an English translation of Shinjo Suguro’s Kokekyo Kogi, vols. 1 & 2, published in Japanese in 1993. This translation was done by Daniel B. Montgomery and the Nichiren Buddhist International Center and published in 1998.

Note: Quotes from this book will appear in connection with the daily posts in the 32 Days of the Lotus Sutra project. One quote a day will be published with each day’s portion of the Lotus Sutra until all of the selected quotes have been published.

Book List

Four Kinds of Peaceful Practices

“Peaceful practices” designates ways to preach and spread the Sutra while keeping your body and mind relaxed and peaceful. The chapter discusses four kinds of peaceful practices: those of body, mouth, mind, and resolution (vows).

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra

Peaceful Practices of the Body

This means acting always with restraint. The Buddha divides these peaceful practices into two parts: “performing proper practices” and “approaching proper things. ”

The first means doing good deeds. Bodhisattvas should always practice the virtue of patience, be mild and gentle, and see things as they truly are.

The second, “approach proper things,” indicates how a Bodhisattva should relate to people—that is, his sphere of associations. The Sutra delineates ten points:

The Bodhisattva should always be willing to teach such people if they ask him, but he should not seek them out or ask for any payment from them. He or she should take pleasure in meditation and, in a quiet place, practice to control the mind (p. 211).

This is the first way to approach proper things. The Buddha also teaches a second way to approach proper things: the Bodhisattva should understand that all things are insubstantial, inexplicable, formless, not born, and without property. “Things can exist only by dependent origination” (p. 212).

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra

Encouragement for Keeping This Sutra

“Encouragement for Keeping This Sutra” means encouraging people to uphold it in spite of certain difficulties. It also implies effort and patience. In Chapter Eleven, “Beholding the Stupa of Treasures,” Sakyamuni called out to the crowd from the Stupa of Treasures, “Is there anyone here who is willing to expound the Lotus Sutra in this Saha-world (“World of Endurance”) after my death, and overcome all difficulties? If there is, I will transmit the Sutra to that person.” Responding to his words, many bodhisattvas promised to spread the Sutra in the evil world after the Buddha’s extinction, and they spoke about their resolution. This is the theme of this chapter.

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra

Unification of the One Buddha Śākyamuni

[T]he Sutra says that innumerable Buddhas or duplicates of Śākyamuni in the worlds of the ten directions were assembled in one place. Each of the duplicates can be seen as a manifestation of Śākyamuni himself, who took the forms of other Buddhas in order to expound the Dharma in other worlds. Now they were all assembled in one place, meaning that all the Buddhas throughout space were unified at that moment by the one Buddha Śākyamuni.

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra

One Single Entity

Let us go back for a moment to the Stupa of Treasures. Ordinarily a Stupa is a mausoleum where the relics (ashes) of Sakyamuni are enshrined. Once Sakyamuni is extinct, living beings can worship him only in his relics. The Sutra says that Many-Treasures Buddha will appear whenever and wherever the Lotus Sutra is expounded. This means that the living Sakyamuni, represented by his relics, and the Lotus Sutra are united as one single entity.

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra

The Most Profound of All Sutras

Sakyamuni’s words about the teachers of the Dharma being “messengers of the Buddha” clearly state the significance of their roles. He now goes on to explain this matter in more detail:

I have expounded many sutras (in the past). I am now expounding this Sutra (in the present). I will also expound many more sutras (in the future). The total number of these sutras is countless. This Lotus Sutra is the most difficult of all of them to understand and believe. This Sutra is the store of the hidden core of all the Buddhas; it is the greatest sutra ever expounded. Because it is so difficult to understand, many people despise it even now during my lifetime. Needless to say, many other people will hate it all the more after my extinction

The Lotus Sutra is now declared to be the most profound of all the sutras. Because of its profundity, it is difficult for ordinary people to believe and understand. If after the Buddha’s extinction, the teachers of the Dharma expound this most profound of all sutras, they are sure to be misunderstood and resented. They may even be persecuted by jealous opponents (for preaching universal salvation and abolishing distinctions between religions). The Sutra will go on to state plainly that teachers of the Dharma can expect the worst from their future audiences.

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra

The Best Preacher

Among the Buddha’s many followers, ten were outstanding. Each was famous for possessing a particular talent which excelled all others. For example, Sariputra was the wisest; Maha-Kasyapa was known for his good practices; Maha-Maudgalyayana was famed for his supernatural powers; Purna was the best preacher, distinguished for his eloquence. This meant that he was more than just a master of rhetoric and silvery words; he could preach with such clarity that through him people could understand the Buddha’s deep teachings, and free themselves from sufferings.

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra

Teachings for Sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas

The First Noble Truth is, “All is suffering.” Suffering here refers to the situation in which we cannot meet our desires or wishes. This truth implies that all life is suffering as long as we are dominated by greed, ignorance of the law, and hostility towards others. Our desires can never be fully satisfied.

The Second Noble Truth states, “The cause of sufferings is ignorance.” This means that suffering in life is caused by ignorance arising from our instincts, such as thirst, hunger, sex, and fear.

The Third Noble Truth states, “The extinction of ignorance is nirvana.” The sravakas took this to mean that ignorance could be extinguished only by quenching human desires.

The Fourth Noble Truth maintains, “The Way to Nirvana is by practicing the Eightfold Path.” The Eightfold Path consists of (1) right views (a correct understanding of the Four Noble Truths), (2) right thoughts (the ability to reflect on the Four Truths), (3) right speech (speaking only the truth and words of kindness), (4) right deeds (proper acts—that is, morality), (5) right livelihood (making a living without harming others), (6) right effort (or exertion), (7) right memory (memory of things beneficial to enlightenment), and (8) right concentration of mind (correct meditation).

The Twelve Interdependent Causes are: (1) ignorance, (2) predisposition, (3) consciousness, (4) “name and form” (an entity of mind and body), (5) the six sense-organs, (6) contact (touch), (7) sensation, (8) craving, (9) grasping, (10) existence, (11) birth, and (12) aging and death. (Since death results in “ignorance,” the whole cycle begins all over again.) Each cause is dependent on its predecessor. For instance, the first cause, ignorance, is the origin of all illusions. At the same time, it generates the second action of predisposition, which induces the third factor of consciousness (the first consciousness after conception takes place), which further produces the fourth cause of “name and form,” and so on. Since the world of illusions is gradually formed through this chain of actions, we will be able to attain enlightenment by eliminating these causes one by one, starting with the last cause.

It is generally said that the teaching of the Four Noble Truths is for sravakas, and that of the Twelve Causes is for Pratyekabuddhas.

The Spirit of the Great Vehicle

“May the merits we have accumulated by this offering be distributed among all living beings, and may we and all living beings togethere attain the enlightenment of the Buddha.”

Kenji Miyazawa, the Japanese poet and author of children’s stories, once said, “Individual happiness is impossible unless the world as a whole becomes happy.” The altruistic spirit of the Great Vehicle is summarized here in these words of the Brahman heavenly-king.

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra

Three Methods of Expounding the Law

[Chapter 7, The Parable of a Magic City,] has two distinct parts. The first is a story of the previous existence of a Buddha called Great-Universally-Excelling-Wisdom. The second consists of the parable for which this chapter is named, “The Magic City.” The concept of previous existences is a fundamental teaching in Buddhism. Its rationale is that there must be some prior meaning or conditions before something else can come into existence. (Nothing comes from nothing, and nothing takes place without a cause.) The story of a previous life here refers to a particular incident in the past which has led to the emergence of a present situation—that is, the origin of things. In the Lotus Sutra, Sakyamuni is said to employ three methods of expounding the law: logical explanations, parables, and stories of previous lives.

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra