27 March 2013

Lotus Sutra Study Questions 17

Chapter 17 of the Lotus Sutra describes the merits of someone who learns, understands, and "upholds" or teaches to others the meaning of this sutra, particularly in regard to the previous chapter on the lifespan of the Buddha.  The Buddha advises his listeners that, if they should happen to meet such a person...
You should think:
'He will go to the place of enlightenment before long.
He will be free from asravas and free from causality.
He will benefit all gods and men'
Lotus Sutra, Murano translation, p. 262

I should emphasize here that this is not out of the capacity of ordinary laypersons and householders.  It merely requires the willingness to listen to the teachings, reflect on them, and integrate them into your everyday life activities as much as you can:  to practice them.

Reviewing earlier chapters:  what does it mean to teach or "uphold" this sutra?  Are words necessary?  What is the relation between practice and teaching in this sense?

25 March 2013

Contemplation: Kokon

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

I expound the transient verse in the early evening.

Today's sun is passing, our life is getting older and today,
what joyfulness remains,
is like a fish living in a teaspoon of water.
Now everyone endeavor diligently to rescue the burning intellect;
be mindful that life is suffering, empty, and transient.
Don't be self-indulgent.
Follow the mindful path.

Kokon, as recited at Tendai Buddhist Institute

20 March 2013

Lotus Sutra Study Questions 16

Buddha Shakyamuni, at the end of Chapter 16 of the Lotus Sutra, states:
I am always thinking:
"How shall I cause all living beings
To enter into the unsurpassed Way
And quickly become Buddhas?"
Murano translation, p. 249

Chapter 16 is a significant and often-discussed chapter.  In it, Buddha Shakyamuni makes two startling claims that fly in the face of convention and expectation.  To summarize:  while the Buddha  appears to live and die as an ordinary man, in reality, this is simply a trick or a ruse; the real Buddha is by nature very, very ancient, not dying and not taking birth, but the personal or historical Buddha appears to be mortal.  Why does the Buddha take this appearance?  So that beings will not become complacent in practice or take the teachings for granted in their present lives.

Question: What Buddha is eternal and always abiding, according to the teachings you have read so far in the Lotus Sutra?  On behalf of whom or what is Buddha Shakyamuni speaking here?

18 March 2013

Contemplation: Goya Noge

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

I expound the transient verse in the late evening--listen!

Time light transmigrates, reaching to the beings of the five kalpas.
Transience fills our conscious thoughts;
it always dwells with the king of death.
I wish together with all practitioners
to practice the path and attain tranquility and quiescence.
 Goya Noge, as recited at Tendai Buddhist Institute.

13 March 2013

Lotus Sutra Study Questions 15

Chapter Fifteen of the Lotus Sutra strongly emphasizes supernatural and fantastic narrative elements:  Buddha Shakyamuni, for instance, emanates many replicas of himself into space.  While these characteristics of the chapter may test some readers' willingness to suspend disbelief, they serve an important function in presenting new shades of meaning in teaching.  Here is one example:

Remember how the Buddha named Ancient Treasures appeared before the assembly to congratulate the Buddha on teaching the core doctrines of the Lotus Sutra, the absolute view that all beings have the nature of Buddhas?  In this chapter, a similar-but-different event happens.  Now that the Buddha has given some detailed instructions on how to practice and live the teachings, we see next...
the ground of the Saha-World, which was composed of one thousand million Sumeru-worlds, quaked and cracked, and many thousands of billions of Bodhisattva-mahasattvas sprang up from underground simultaneously.  Their bodies were golden-coloured, and adorned with the thirty-two marks and with innumerable rays of light [...].  They came up here because they heard these words of Sakyamuni Buddha.
Lotus Sutra chapter 15, pp. 228-229, trans. Murano.

*Compare and contrast these two situations:  the Buddha Ancient Treasures appearing in Chapter Eleven, and the uncountable bodhisattvas emerging in response the Buddha's teaching in Chapter Fourteen as presented here in Chapter Fifteen.  What can be learned from these repeated motifs in new contexts?

*What is the relationship between the exhortations to practice in a rigorous way and the previous teachings presented in this sutra on the availability of Buddhahood to all?

11 March 2013

Contemplation: Awaken! Take Heed!

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

Let me respectfully remind you:
Life and death are of supreme importance.
Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost.
Each one of us should strive to awaken.
Take heed!
Do not squander your life!

as recited at Tendai Buddhist Institute

06 March 2013

Lotus Sutra Study Questions 14

The previous chapter found the assembly of the Buddha making a public commitment to practice and promote the teachings, without really knowing just what they were committing to, out of trust in the Buddha and faith in the Dharma.  This is very much like any meaningful relationship, in which one enters in good faith and accepts that the outcome may be very different from anything one might have reasonably expected.

Chapter 14 finds the Buddha giving specific instructions to the assembly on how one who upholds the Lotus Sutra should conduct him or herself in the world.  This conduct is simultaneously a form of practice and a way of teaching others (with or without words).  These instructions are quite detailed; here is a representative selection (despite the gendered language in this translation, I have been taught that the Buddha's advice applies to both men and women equally):

Anyone who wishes to expound this sutra
Should give up jealousy, anger, arrogance,
Flattery, deception, and dishonesty.
He should always be upright.

He should not despise others,
Or have fruitless disputes about the teachings.
He should not perplex others by saying to them,
"You will not be able to attain Buddhahood."

Any son of mine who expounds the Dharma
Should be gentle, patient and compassionate
Towards all living beings.
He should not be lazy.

In the worlds of the ten quarters,
The great Bodhisattvas are practicing the Way
Out of their compassion towards all living beings.
He should respect them as his great teachers.
(Lotus Sutra, Murano translation, p. 219).

How does this advice relate to the teachings on Buddha-nature and skillful means we have seen in earlier chapters? 

As a thought experiment, consider what a community might be like in which everyone aspires to the sort of conduct that the Buddha outlines in the passage above.

04 March 2013

Contemplation: All Is Integrated

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

with the threefold contemplation in a single thought [realizing that reality simultaneously has the threefold aspects of emptiness, conventional existence, and the Middle], one [realizes that] all is integrated and that there is not one color or scent that is not the Buddha-nature.  Without traversing the three aeons one immediately completes the practice of a [Bodhi]sattva, and without transcending one thought, one directly approaches the fruit of [the ultimate Buddha Maha]vairocana.  One fulfills perfect awakening on a seat of space.  The triple body [of the Buddha] is perfectly complete, and there is no one [who is] superior.   This result is truly the goal of this [Tendai] school.
Gishin,  The Collected Teachings of the Tendai Lotus School,  pp. 135-136