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