Essay Lotus Sutra

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Excerpts from The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra

[Excerpts from various volumes of The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, by Daisaku Ikeda]

Volume I, pp. 14-15

The Lotus Sutra is an attempt to teach this truth [t­hat each of us had always been a Buddha from the eternal past and will always be a Buddha into the eternal future] to all in an easily comprehensible fashion. Nichiren Daishonin, the votary of the Lotus Sutra in the Latter Day of the Law1, made it possible for all to embody this truth i­n their daily lives. The Lotus Sutra teaches of the great hidden treasure of the heart, ­as vast as the universe itself, which dispels any feelings of powerlessness. It teaches a dynamic way of living in which we breathe the immense life of the universe itself. It teaches the true great adventure of self-reformation. The Lotus Sutra has the breadth and scope to embrace all people on the way to peace. It has the fragrance of magnificent culture and art. It leads us to an unsurpassed state of life imbued with the qualities of eternity, happiness, true self and purity, so that wherever we are, we may say, "This, my land, remains safe and tranquil."

The Lotus Sutra has the drama of fighting for justice against evil. It has the warmth that comforts the weary. It has a vibrant, pulsing courage that drives away fear. It has a chorus of joy at attaining absolute freedom throughout past, present and future. It has the soaring flight of liberty. It has brilliant light, flowers, greenery, music, paintings, vivid stories. It offers unsurpassed lessons on psychology, the workings of the human heart; lessons on life; lessons on happiness; and lessons on peace. It maps out the basic rules for good health. It awakens us to the universal truth that a change in one's heart can transform everything. It is neither the parched desert of individualism nor the prison of totalitarianism; it has the power to manifest a pure land of compassion, in which people complement and encourage one another.

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Volume I, p. 46-47

A Buddha is a person awakened to the reality of his or her being, and naturally, to the reality of all human life. That is the wisdom of the Buddha and the wisdom of the Lotus Sutra. The Lotus Sutra was clearly expounded for all human beings, to enable them to attain true independence. It does not discriminate in any sense between priests and lay practitioners, men and women, rich and poor, persons of high and low status, or young and old. It is entirely for all humanity . . . The Lotus Sutra teaches that all equally possess the potential for Buddhahood and that all have the ability to savor state of absolute happiness. It is worth noting that Shakyamuni's intent to make Buddhahood accessible to all people is revealed by the language he chose to preach the Buddhist teachings: the language of Magadha2­, the everyday language of the common people.

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Volume I, pp. 189-190

Human revolution simultaneously leads to a revolution of society and of our environment. In "The True Aspect of All Phenomena," the Daishonin cites Miao-lo's3 observation: "Living beings and their environments always manifest Myoho-renge-kyo" (WND, p. 383).

T'ien-t'ai4, too, says that the land also possesses the ten factors of life. Life and its environment are not separate things. They are inseparable. This is the origin of the principle that human revolution means a simultaneous revolution of the land and society. Viewed through the eyes of the Buddha--that is, from the perspective of the true entity of all phenomena--all phenomena in the universe are one living entity. Happiness for living beings independent of their environment is impossible. Similarly, peace only in terms of the environment independent of living beings is also impossible. We cannot be truly happy while others remain miserable. Nor is the misery of another that person's alone. The more happiness we bring to others, the happier we ourselves become. As long as one unhappy person remains, our own happiness cannot be complete. This is the perspective of life from the true entity of all phenomena. That is why endless challenge to transform reality is the very heart of the true entity of all phenomena.

In his rationale for having written this thesis "On Establishing the Correct Teaching For the Peace of the Land," Nichiren Daishonin states: "I say all this solely for the sake of the nation, for the sake of the Law, for the sake of others, not for my own sake" (WND, 164). However fiercely the Daishonin was persecuted, the flame in his heart for the salvation of others could not be extinguished.

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Volume II, pp. 71-72

The important point is that the Buddha's preaching begins from a recognition of human diversity. The Buddha asks the question: How can I enable each person to attain Buddhahood, notwithstanding differences in circumstance, temperament and capacity? The Lotus Sutra, without departing in the least from the reality of the individual, clarifies the path to Buddhahood for all.

The humanism of the Lotus Sutra comes down to the tenet of treasuring the individual. This is the Buddha's spirit. The Lotus Sutra's fundamental objective of universal enlightenment begins with treasuring the individual and can be realized only through steadfast adherence to this point.

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Vol.IV pp. 185-186 The Life Span of the Thus Come One

"The Life Span of the Thus Come One," the sixteenth chapter of the Lotus Sutra, describes the Buddha enlightened since the remote past, or the eternal Buddha. Just who is this Buddha? Commenting on the passage in the Lotus Sutra that reads, "It has been immeasurable, boundless hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, millions of nayutas of kalpas since I in fact attained Buddhahood," the Daishonin explains: "'I' represents the living beings of the Dharma realm. Everyone in the Ten Worlds is referred to here in the word 'I'."

The eternal Buddha of the "Life Span" chapter means all living beings. We are all "eternal Buddhas." Ordinary people are Buddhas just as they are.

There are no grades or distinctions among people. We are all equal; we are all equally Buddhas. The only difference among people has to do with whether, or the extent to which, we realize this in our hearts. From the standpoint of Buddhism, that is the only meaningful distinction.

A Buddha is not someone displaying the thirty-two features or eighty features5. Our lives, originally, are the Buddha. The universe itself is originally the Buddha. The appearance of the sun is a function of compassion. The illumination of the moon is also compassion, as is the beautiful respiration of green plants and trees. The entire universe is a great living entity carrying out activities of compassion from the beginningless past through the eternal future. This vast organism of compassion is the eternal Buddha. And the life of every being in the Ten Worlds is one with this Buddha of the "Life Span" chapter. Faith in the Mystic Law is the key enabling us to "return" to this original life . . . The Daishonin clearly states in the "Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings," "The 'Life Span' chapter reveals the original life of all beings in the Ten Worlds6. This chapter is called the essential teaching, or honmon, because it is the gate (Jpn. mon) to the truth of eternity (Jpn. hon)."

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Skillful means, important issues related to Śākyamuni Buddha’s inconceivable lifespan, and issues concerning body and gender are addressed under separate headings. Many other issues regarding the central ideas presented in the Lotus Sutra are raised in the following sources. Tsukamoto 2007 is a detailed study of many Lotus Sutra themes, including predictions, parables, and relationships to cult practices. This is a revised translation of a 1986 collection of the author’s works, presented with additional writings by Tsukamoto. Reeves 2002 is a wide-ranging anthology presenting discussions of many issues as informed by the Lotus Sutra, including its innumerable meanings, somatic realization, relation to temporality, and contemporary relevance. Shioiri 1989 presents a helpful analysis of the sutra’s significant literary structure, including informative discussions with helpful charts connecting the sutra’s formation with various Chinese theories of its structure. Essays in Teiser and Stone 2009 treat many aspects of the sutra, and especially its practice. Articles address controversial issues in the sutra such as the role of gender and hierarchy and the practice of self-immolation, as well as popular practices and artistic expressions inspired by the sutras. Tamura 1989 and Williams 1989 present surveys of key Lotus Sutra ideas and images. Niwano 1976 and Sugurō 1998 present accessible, Nichiren-influenced commentaries on the sutra and its implications, both including the opening and closing sutras.

  • Niwano, Nikkyō. Buddhism for Today: A Modern Interpretation of the Threefold Lotus Sutra. Tokyo: Kōsei, 1976.

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    An explication of the sutra chapters by the founder of the Lotus Sutra–based lay movement Risshō Kōsei-kai, one of the Nichiren influenced New Religious movements.

  • Reeves, Gene, ed. A Buddhist Kaleidoscope: Essays on the Lotus Sutra. Tokyo: Kōsei, 2002.

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    A rich anthology of essays by respected scholars considering many aspects of the sutra, such as its innumerable meanings, somatic realization, relation to temporality, comparisons to Kenji Miyazawa and Leo Tolstoy, and contemporary relevance to interreligious dialogue, ecological crisis, health-care ethics, and gender justice.

  • Shioiri, Ryōdō. “The Meaning of the Formation and Structure of the Lotus Sutra.” In The Lotus Sutra in Japanese Culture. Edited by George J. Tanabe Jr., and Willa Jane Tanabe, 15–36. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1989.

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    Reflects on aspects of the Lotus Sutra in Japanese culture and also connects the sutra’s formation with Chinese theories of its structure. Especially significant is Tiantai founder Zhiyi’s highly influential division of the sutra’s first and second half as, respectively, the practice or secondary aspect and the fruit of practice or primary gate.

  • Sugurō, Shinjō. Introduction to the Lotus Sutra. Fremont, CA: Jain Publishing, 1998.

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    A helpful chapter-by-chapter analysis of the sutra by a Nichiren-shu priest, with revisions by Daniel Montgomery.

  • Tamura, Yoshirō. “The Ideas of the Lotus Sutra.” In The Lotus Sutra in Japanese Culture. Edited by George J. Tanabe Jr., and Willa Jane Tanabe, 37–51. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1989.

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    Surveys fundamental ideas in the Lotus Sutra, especially as they relate to other Mahayana sutras and teachings. This article discusses the role of faith and, more than most treatments of the Lotus Sutra, its relationship to emptiness thought.

  • Teiser, Stephen F., and Jacqueline I. Stone, eds. Readings of the Lotus Sutra. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.

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    Presents a range of essays dealing with aspects of the sutra, ranging over philosophical and practice issues in China and Japan.

  • Tsukamoto, Keishō. Source Elements of the Lotus Sutra: Buddhist Integration of Religion, Thought, and Culture. Tokyo: Kōsei, 2007.

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    This detailed study includes considerations of religious unity in the Mahayana, the concept of prediction related to the sutra’s many predictions of buddhahood, the role of parables, and the sutra’s relation to cultic activity, including for Avalokiteśvara and Amitābha’s Pure Land.

  • Williams, Paul. Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. London: Routledge, 1989.

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    This highly useful survey of Mahayana philosophy includes a chapter on the Lotus Sutra with discussion of many of its aspects, as well as its later expressions in East Asia.

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