Category Archives: LS Introduction

‘Reading’ the Lotus Sutra

Sakyamuni told us in the Lotus Sutra how we should live. We “read” the Sutra by comparing its teachings with our deeds. It was Nichiren (1220-1280) who completed the practice of “reading” the Lotus Sutra and fulfilling it in deeds throughout his lifetime. As you may know, Nichiren endured many persecutions, but he understood his troubles as having been foretold in the Lotus Sutra. Experiencing them, he realized that Sakyamuni’s prophecies had proven to be true. In stead of lamenting his fate, he derived spiritual joy at being allowed to fulfill the prophecies in his own body.

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra

The Ideal World of the Lotus Sutra

In [Chapter Eleven, Beholding the Stupa of Treasures], the cosmos is so sublimely depicted that we feel as if we are seeing a drama in space. This majestic picture is a symbolic representation of the ideal world of the Lotus Sutra.

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra

Beholding the Stupa of Treasures

This chapter opens with a miraculous phenomenon taking place while Sakyamuni is preaching. The ground suddenly splits open, and a huge Stupa (a round dome-shaped shrine), five hundred yojanas high and two hundred and fifty yojanas wide, springs up from underground and hangs in space before the Buddha. Some say that a yojana is about forty miles, and others argue that it is about seventy-five miles (the distance of a one-day trip by bullock cart). At any rate, an enormous stupa—huge beyond our imagination—suddenly appears. It is magnificent in appearance, adorned with jewels and ornaments.

At the sight of this stupa, the assembled congregation bursts into song, offers jewels and flowers before it, venerates it, honors it, and worships it. Then a loud voice of praise is heard from within the stupa:

Excellent, excellent! You, Sakyamuni, the World-Honored
One, have expounded to this great multitude the Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law, the Teaching of Equality, the Great Wisdom, the Law for Bodhisattvas, the Law Upheld by the Buddhas. What you, Sakyamuni, the World-Honored One, have expounded is all true! (p. 181)

The speaker is a Buddha called Many-Treasures Tathagata (“Thus Come”), who resides within the stupa. Because he proves the authenticity of the Lotus Sutra, which is expounded by Sakyamuni, the World-Honored One, he is called the Validating Buddha. His Stupa is named the Stupa of Treasures.

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra

The Messengers of the Buddha

Sakyamuni’s prophetic statements on religious practices in the future, or after his extinction, are the major characteristics of the Lotus Sutra, and cannot be found in any other sutra. In a time when Sakyamuni no longer exists physically, Bodhisattvas are to play the leading role in his place. … Bodhisattvas have the heart of the Buddha, and their deeds manifest his will. This is why the Lotus Sutra entitles Bodhisattvas to be the teachers of the Dharma. In this sense, Bodhisattvas, or the teachers of the Dharma, can be considered as substitutes for the Buddha. What is more, their role can be considered even more important than that of the Buddha himself after his extinction. Sakyamuni stresses this in his … statement to Bodhisattva Medicine-King:

Medicine-King! If after my extinction, anyone expounds even a single verse or phrase of this Sutra to even one person, he or she should be considered to be my messenger, sent by me to do my work. Needless to say, those who expound the Sutra in public are also great Bodhisattvas. Even if an evil person speaks ill of me or slanders me in my presence, he is not as sinful as the person who reproaches laymen or monks for reading and reciting the Lotus Sutra (p. 172).

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra

The Ideal Life

Purna was assured of his future Buddhahood in a realm to be called Excellent-Purity. The sutra gives some details about this pure land, where the inhabitants will know only happiness. “They will feed on two things: delight in the Dharma and delight in dhyana (meditation)” (p. 155).

A good meal is one of life’s most delectable joys. A meal also supplies us with physical strength. In the Pure Land, receiving the Dharma (truth) and feeling peace of mind after entering dhyana will be the joy and sustenance of life. In short, the sutra teaches us that the ideal life consists of feeding our hearts just as we feed our bodies.

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra

Two Kinds of Nirvana

The “two kinds of nirvana” refer to the enlightenment achieved by Sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas under the guidance of the Lesser Vehicle. Because students of the Lesser Vehicle looked upon the world negatively (as something from which to escape), they eventually refused to continue the dangerous and tiresome journey through life. The enlightenment which they attained could be described as “reducing the body to ashes and the mind to annihilation in the great void.” But this, said the Buddha, is only an expedient along the journey. It is meant only to keep people from getting attached to physical or mental objects.

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra

Universal Salvation

The Great Vehicle teaches that all living beings will attain the enlightenment of the Buddha, become Buddhas themselves, and be freed from sufferings. Suppose, however, that someone were to attain enlightenment, but only for his own sake and not for the sake of others. This achievement would be in the narrow-minded and selfish spirit of the Lesser Vehicle. The Great Vehicle, on the other hand, teaches not individual, but universal salvation: all should equally attain the enlightenment of the Buddha. The words, “May we and all living beings together attain the enlightenment of the Buddha!” express this merciful yearning of the Great Vehicle for universal salvation—for the salvation of all beings without exception.

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra

The Realm of Origin

The narrative of Great-Universally-Excelling-Wisdom Buddha can be considered an introduction to the “Realm of Origin” (Hommon), which is the key philosophy of the Lotus Sutra. In some ways, this story foreshadows the fundamental view of the Realm of Origin (Hommon), which will be revealed in later chapters, especially in Chapter Sixteen, “The Duration of the Life of the Buddha.” First, the facts that Great-Duration of the Life of the Buddha.” First, the facts that Great-Universally-Excelling-Wisdom Buddha expounded the Lotus Sutra a long time ago, and the sixteen princes kept it and continue to expound it even now, indicate that the Lotus Sutra is the eternal truth, transcending the concepts of time and space. Second, the fact that the Buddhas of the worlds of the ten directions obtained enlightenment through the Lotus Sutra suggests that all the teachings of and faith in the Buddhas are to be merged into the teachings of and faith in the Lotus Sutra. Finally, the central cosmic figure among these Buddhas is Sakyamuni, who resides in this World of Endurance (Saha-world).

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra

The Vast Compassion of Sakyamuni

Traditionally, the small herbs are interpreted as humans and deities, the middle-sized herbs as “hearers” and “private Buddhas,” and the large herbs, stems, and branches as Bodhisattvas. The latter can be divided into three levels of accomplishment. The vast compassion of Sakyamuni is distributed equally to all living beings in order to lead them all to the enlightenment of the Buddha.

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra

Understanding By Faith

[W]hy is Chapter Four called “Understanding by Faith?” This refers to the mental attitude of accepting faith. Faith appears in an honest heart. Neither logic nor reason can awaken faith in us. Faith grows beyond reason when we encounter someone beyond our capacities, or when we unexpectedly touch something absolute in our lives or in the cosmos. In Chapter Three, the sutra maintains, “They will be able to follow this sutra only because they believe my words, not because of their own wisdom” (p. 80).

Introduction to the Lotus Sutra