The nature and message of the Lotus Sutra
Source document: Religio. 1998, vol. 6, iss. 2, pp. -130
ISSN1210-3640 (print)2336-4475 (online)
License: Not specified license
This paper examines Saddharma-Puṇḍartka Sūtra or The Lotus Discourse on the True Reality', probably the most revered scripture of Mahāyāna Buddhism, from the point of view of the claim that the message of liberation in it is basically the same, albeit expressed in a different idiom, as it is in early Buddhism known from the Pāli Canon and the fragments of other early scriptures. Although some 500 years younger, it still preserves the form of the old discourses, starting with the words "Thus have I heard", and takes place on the Vulture Peak (Gṛdhrakūta) near Rājagṛha in front of a big congregation which includes arahats, various deities and a great number of bodhisattvas. Later innumerable Buddhas from other world system arrive as well. The basic message of the discourse, which is another turning of the wheel of truth after the first one in the Deer Park at Ṙsipatana, is this that the true and final spiritual accomplishment is solely that of the buddhahood; those who had become śrāvakas (i.e. arahats), pratyekabuddhas and even bodhisattvas could not at first grasp the whole truth and therefore the Buddha lured them away from worldly attachments by the skilful means of preaching the three paths (yānas) which lead to a limited achievement and were like superior toys which a father displays outside his buming house to lure his children, absorbed in games inside, to come out quickly and be saved. But all who accomplished those three paths will notwithstanding have to tread the buddhayāna to reach the supreme enlightenment, equal to final nirvāna, with all its higher knowledges (abhijñās). Without aspiring for this final, full and perfect enlightenment, i.e. entering on (buddhayāna) which is the only true way (ekayāna), all are only deceiving themselves. All present bodhisattvas who vowed to be helpers of others should convey this teaching to them. The Buddha himself has already fully trained countless other bodhisattvas for this task during his long career, since he arrived at supreme, perfect enlightenment incalculable eons ago and his life is unlimited in duration. This is the second message of the discourse: although enlightened long ago, he assumed the present conventional role of the Buddha Śākyamuni as a device ("by my attributive power of control" - mamadhisṭhānabalādhānam) to lead creatures to full ripeness for entering the true path. He has been appearing in this way from time to time under different names to teach in this phenomenal world which is for him neither real nor unreal and is always present to nim. And he will continue so appearing for twice as many eons in the future as he has done in the past before the measure of his lifetime will be full. ...