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

Being In Accord with Cosmic Law

In Chapter Nineteen, “Merits of a Teacher of the Dharma,” we read, “When they expound the scriptures of non-Buddhist schools, or give advice to the government, or teach the way to earn a livelihood, they will be able to be in accord with the right teachings of the Buddha” (p. 282). This means that any study of secular issues, such as politics and economics, must be in accord with the cosmic law, which is to say, the Truth expounded in the Sutra. Conversely, the teachings of the Lotus Sutra (The Truth) are applicable to secular studies, such as politics or economics, whose prime objectives are the betterment of everyday life.

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra

Purification of the Six Sense-Organs

The six sense-organs mean all the functions of body and mind. Practitioners of the Lotus Sutra will be able to purify their body and mind by this five-fold practice and enter into a state close to enlightenment. It is called the “purification of the six sense-organs.”

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra

Keeping and Practicing the Lotus Sutra

The Sutra says that, of course, building splendid stupas and temples, or contributing monetary donations and treasures to the Sangha produce many merits, because such deeds are evidence of a faithful heart. But compared to them, the merit which one obtains by keeping and practicing the Lotus Sutra is much more. It is true that there are stages in the practice of keeping the Sutra, as we have seen. But among those stages, the first one—having a joyful heart when one hears the Sutra—has the most significant meaning. Likewise, in the “Four Faiths in the Present,” which we discussed first, “Understanding by Faith in a Single Moment’s Thought” is mentioned first. It is only thanks to the faith and joy occurring within us the first time we grasp the meaning of the Lotus Sutra that we decide to practice it, act according to it, and finally attain enlightenment.

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra

The Pivotal Teaching of the Lotus Sutra

“The Duration of the Life of the Tathagata” (pronounced Tut-HAH-gut-tuh), is the name of this chapter, which teaches that the Buddha is eternal. We ordinary people usually think that the Buddha had a limited existence, just as we have. It is commonly understood that Sakyamuni was born a prince in the kingdom of the Sakya clan in the Himalayan foothills about 2,500 years ago. When he was around thirty years old, he renounced the world, attained enlightenment after six years of training, and became the Buddha at the place of enlightenment, now known as Buddha-gaya. Afterwards, he expounded the Dharma throughout northern India, and entered Nirvana at the age of eighty. But this limited Sakyamuni, who is equivalent to Sakyamuni as a historical person age, is a provisional figure. This chapter of the “Duration of the Life of the Tathagata (the “One Thus Come”), reveals that he is an everlasting and immortal being, possessing eternal life. This assertion has always been considered the pivotal teaching of the Lotus Sutra.

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra

The Ideal Bodhisattvas

Here it is revealed that the Bodhisattvas who sprang up from beneath the earth are the exemplary Bodhisattvas of the Lotus Sutra. Many other Bodhisattvas have appeared before this chapter, but these are the only ones who fully live up to the Sutra’s teachings. Thus they symbolize the ideal, the models for dynamic activity. Their sphere of action is summarized in the lines, “They are no more defiled by worldly desires than a lotus flower is by the water in which it grows.”

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra

The Bodhisattvas from Underground

We recall that in Chapter Eleven, “Beholding the Stupa of Treasures,” Sakyamuni had appealed from within the Stupa to the congregation. “Is there anyone here,” he asked, “who is willing to expound the Lotus Sutra in the world after my extinction? I wish to hand it on to someone so that it can be perpetuated.” In Chapter Thirteen, “Encouragement for Keeping the Sutra,” eighty thousand Bodhisattvas of superior quality, such as Medicine-King Bodhisattva, and eighty thousand billion other great Bodhisattvas respond to his appeal and offer to keep and spread the Sutra in our world. But Sakyamuni did not answer them. Instead, he went on to expound Chapter Fourteen, “Peaceful Practices.” As Chapter Fifteen begins, countless Bodhisattvas, “more than eight times the number of sands in the River Ganges,” stand up before the Buddha and reiterate their offer to spread the Sutra. “We are the ones,” they promise, “who will disseminate the Lotus Sutra in this World of Endurance.” But Sakyamuni gives them an unexpected answer:

“No,” he said, “You don’t need to protect or uphold this sutra, because there are (already) Bodhisattvas in this World of Endurance, as many as sixty thousand times the number of sands in the River Ganges, and they are the ones who will assume the responsibility for disseminating the Sutra in this Saha-world.”

No sooner had he spoken these words, when the ground quaked and cracked, and countless Bodhisattvas emerged from beneath the earth like clouds, and sprang up into the air. All of these extraordinary beings were golden colored. They emitted brilliant rays of light, and displayed the “thirty-two marks of Buddhas.”

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra

Peaceful Practices of the Mouth

Bodhisattvas are to choose words carefully and make no mistakes in expounding the Dharma. There are four points:

  1. A Bodhisattva should not point out the faults of other sutras or their adherents.
  2. He or she should not despise other preachers of the Dharma.
  3. He or she should not speak of either the merits or the demerits of other preachers, and should not mention “hearers” by name when criticizing their teachings or even when prais ing them.
  4. He or she should not feel hostile toward anybody, and should freely answer any questions put to him. When asked difficult questions, the Bodhisattva should not answer by the teachings of the Lesser Vehicle, but always refer to the Great Vehicle, and so lead people to the “knowledge of the equality and differences of all things” (p. 216).
Introduction to the Lotus Sutra

Sakyamuni and Devadatta

Political scandals have always been with us. But the politicians, themselves, rarely think of themselves as scandalous. They are only “back scratching,” they feel: repaying a favor for a favor. The country may not forgive them for putting selfish interests ahead of national interests, but we cannot say that they were entirely evil for helping their political friends. They put human relationships ahead of duty.

The relationship between Sakyamuni and Devadatta can be considered an example of human relationships. Devadatta was a traitor during Sakyamuni’s lifetime. However, in a previous life he had been an indispensable teacher of Sakyamuni.

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra

The Difficulty

Many-Treasures then calls Sakyamuni to join him inside the stupa, offering him half of his seat. Thus Many-Treasures and Sakyamuni sit side by side, sharing the same seat.

Since the seat of the two Buddhas is too high for the congregation to see, Sakyamuni raises them up into the sky by his supernatural powers. Then he says to them, “I shall soon enter into Nirvana. Is there anyone here who is willing to expound the Lotus Sutra in the world after my extinction? I wish to hand it on to someone so that it can be perpetuated” (p. 187).

This statement is followed by verses explaining how difficult it will be to expound the Lotus Sutra after his extinction.

He lists nine examples of unimaginable difficulty, and then stresses in six articles that those hardships are nothing compared to the demanding mission of his followers. The first part of the teaching is as follows:

It is not difficult to expound all the other sutras, as many as there are sands in the River Ganges. It is not difficult to grasp Mount Sumeru and hurl it to a distance of countless Buddha worlds. It is not difficult to move a world composed of one thousand million Sumeru-worlds with the tip of a toe and hurl it to another world. It is difficult to expound this Sutra in the evil world after my extinction (p. 190-1).

The Three Assemblies

[T]he place where the Sutra is delivered will be changed at the beginning of the next chapter. Up to and including this chapter, the Buddha has been speaking on Mount Sacred Eagle, near the city of Rajagriha. After a mysterious phenomenon takes place at the beginning of Chapter Eleven, and continuing until Chapter Twenty-two, his sermon will be delivered around a treasure tower (stupa) which is hanging in space. Since that part of the sutra is delivered from this new location, the section from Chapters Eleven to Twenty-two is referred to as the “Assembly in Space,” or “Assembly in the Sky.” The scenes before and after the assembly in the sky are called respectively, the “First Assembly on Mt. Sacred Eagle” and “Second Assembly on Mt. Sacred Eagle.”

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra