30 January 2013

Lotus Sutra Study Questions 9

Chapter Nine of the Lotus Sutra is relatively brief and straightforward.  In it, the Buddha announces that Ananda (his personal attendant) and Rahula (his son from his early days as a prince) will both become Buddhas, along with 2,000 other sravakas.  All of them are delighted with this news.

Sravakas are practitioners who are committed to a path of renunciation and personal liberation:  the so-called Hinayana.  Here, the Buddha declares again that all the approaches he has presented so far, including the sravaka vehicle, leads inevitably to Buddhahood.

Do you notice a pattern developing from chapter to chapter here?  What is the Buddha going with this?

28 January 2013

Contemplation: Many Explanations

After reviewing the guidelines for practice, take the following as your object of contemplation:

Reality itself is beyond verbalization, but one must use conventional language to encounter reality.  The Path cannot be grasped through discussion, but stages [of attainment] can be discerned through the process of discussion.  Therefore many explanations are conventionally presented for the sake of beings in this realm of suffering, and to teach [the truth for the sake of] the deaf and the blind.

Gishin, The Collected Teachings of the Tendai Lotus School, p. 45.

23 January 2013

Lotus Sutra Study Questions 8

Chapter Eight of the Lotus Sutra picks up a theme developed in Chapter Six, in which four of the Buddha's foremost disciples are predicted to become Buddhas themselves.  In Chapter Eight, the Buddha declares that five hundred more of His disciples are destined to Buddhahood. 

Also, another parable is presented:  imagine that a friend has sewn into your jacket or shirt a jewel of limitless value, but you have forgotten about it and have wandered around struggling for cash, ignorant of the real wealth you possess.  Buddha-nature is like that:  it is yours and has been all along (everyone's really), but you may need someone to point this out to you and convince you to check the hem of your jacket...

In this chapter, two trends in the text come together:  first, the prediction that some disciples will become Buddhas, a club that is becoming less and less exclusive as the sutra progresses; and second, the reiterated teaching of Buddha-nature in all.  What do you make of this?  Where do you suppose the Buddha is going with this teaching?  More to the point, where does this lead in terms of practice and everyday life?

21 January 2013

Contemplation: Aspirations

After reviewing the guidelines for practice, take the following as your object of contemplation:

The ability to respond to the Buddha's teaching is not the same for all sentient beings; it depends on their aspirations and desires.  The teachings of the Noble One rely on these transformational conditions and thus are different for each person.

Gishin, The Collected Teachings of the Tendai Lotus School, p. 11

17 January 2013

Lotus Sutra Study Questions 7

Chapter Seven develops the ideas on teaching and learning in the earlier chapters by moving them into the field of leadership.  The Buddha leads the community, His students, by providing them with situations in which they can learn together, sometimes by extraordinary means.  This is to say that the Buddha's leadership is guided first and foremost by the intention to guide beings toward Buddhahood and away from the habits that cause trouble.

To explain this point, the Buddha gives a parable in which a group of people have begun taking a journey under the leadership of a wise guide.  The guide, knowing that the travelers he is responsible for are not mentally or physically capable of accomplishing the journey without a rest in the middle, magically manifests a resting place at the midway point.  Here we are now, everyone!  The travelers are delighted and, importantly, their capacity for travel improves because they have learned to trust their ability to achieve their goals.  Once they have rested adequately, the guide then explains the complete truth:  we have further to go, but now that we are rested and experienced, we can accomplish this easily.  So they do.

In terms of Buddhist doctrine, the magical city that has been conjured up as a skilful means is the teaching of nirvana, and the real destination is Buddhahood.  There is a sectarian overlay in this parable, because some Buddhist schools do teach that the first and only goal of practice is in fact nirvana.  In this chapter, the Buddha claims that this is not so:  nirvana is a peaceful experience that is not ultimately real and is not the final goal of practice, because it lacks all the capacities and capabilities of Buddhahood. 

I would prefer not to engage in sectarian squabbling.  Instead, I would like to direct our attention to this question of leadership.  How would you describe the Buddha's leadership of the sangha (community) in this chapter?  Is it of a piece with the teaching philosophy we have seen in earlier chapters, or is it a new development?  Also, what do you think of the metaphor of travel used in this chapter? 

14 January 2013

Contemplation: Nature of Reality is Beyond Words

After reviewing the guidelines for practice, take the following as your object of contemplation:

I humbly submit that true reality is without marks and not something known through discrimination.  The nature of reality is beyond words.  How can it be adequately grasped through conceptualization?  Nevertheless the Great Hero [the Buddha] transmitted the truth by relying on forms and images in accordance with [the capabilities of] sentient  beings.
 Gishin, The Collected Teachings of the Tendai Lotus School in One Fascicle, p. 5

09 January 2013

Lotus Sutra Study Questions 6

In Chapter Six, the Buddha declares that four of his disciples--Maha-Kasyapa, Maha-Maudgalyayana, Subhuti, and Maha-Katyayana--will become Buddhas, and predicts the future circumstances in which this will happen.

What is that about?  How does this development relate to what we have seen so far in this text? Where might this go from here?

07 January 2013

Contemplation: The Same Rain of the Dharma

After reviewing the guidelines for practice, take the following as your object of contemplation:
Although my teachings are of the same content to anyone
Just as the rain is of the same taste,
The hearers receive my teachings differently
According to their capacities
Just as the plants receive
Different amounts of the rain water.

I now expediently reveal the Dharma with this simile.
I expound one truth with various discourses.
This simile is only one of the expedients
Employed by my wisdom,
Just as a drop of sea water is
Part of the great ocean.

Though I water all living beings of the world
With the same rain of the Dharma,
They practice the teachings
Of the same taste differently
According to their capacities,
Just as the herbs and trees
In thickets and forests
Grew gradually according to their species.

The Buddhas always expound
The teachings of the same taste
In order to cause all living beings of the world
To understand the Dharma.
Those who practice the teachings continuously
Will obtain [various fruits of] enlightenment.

The Lotus Sutra, trans. Murano, pages 112-113.