01 May 2013

Lotus Sutra Study Questions 21

Chapter 21 of the Lotus Sutra describes the miraculous supernatural activities of the Buddhas.  These are capacities that exceed the ordinary, repetitive, and mundane expectations and limits we experience in everyday samsaric life.  Of interest in this chapter is the relationship between this extraordinary Buddha-capacity and the opportunities for Buddhist practice that present themselves in this life.

The first kind of supernatural activity of the Buddhas is described here (all quotations from the Murano translation of the Lotus Sutra):
[The Buddha] stretched out his long and broad tongue upwards until the tip of it reached the World of Brahman.  Then he emitted rays of light with an immeasurable variety of colours from his pores.  The light illumined all the worlds of the ten quarters.  The Buddhas who were sitting on the lion-like seats under the jewelled trees also stretched out their broad and long tongues and emitted innumerable rays of light.  Sakyamuni Buddha and the Buddhas under the jewelled trees displayed these  supernatural powers of theirs for one hundred thousand years.  Then they pulled back their tongues, coughed at the same time, and snapped their fingers.  These two sounds [of coughing and snapping] reverberated over the Buddha-worlds of the ten quarters, and the ground of those worlds quaked in the six ways. (pp. 292-293)
I have been taught that the long, broad tongue of the Buddha represents the teachings of the Buddha s represented in the sutras and commentaries:  a deep and extensive canon of material, far-reaching.  Reflect on the light and sounds and unnaturally flexible duration of time described in this passage.  What might the different elements here mean if understood as symbolic language?  What is this passage attempting to communicate in its imagery?

The second kind of supernatural activity of the Buddhas is a bit more subtle.
all the teachings of the Tathagata, all the unhindered, supernatural powers of the Tathagata, and all the profound achievements of the Tathagata are revealed and expounded explicitly in this sutra (p. 294).
Review what you have learned so far in this sutra.  What are the most important achievements and capacities of the Buddha as presented in this sutra?  Just what teaching is the Buddha asking his disciples to follow, and how is he instructing them to practice here?  This chapter may offer a helpful point of departure in reflecting on this.

1 comment:

  1. The Canadian philosopher of media, Marshall McLuhan, coined the phrase The Medium is the Message to indicate that what really changes us is not the content (message) of the medium we are exposed to (the words of the Lotus Sutra), but the medium itself (the fantastic images depicted in the Lotus Sutra). These images stay with us long after we have read of them. Again and again we can come back to these images and derive new insights into the realities of life, for the images are metaphors designed to continually teach us new and never-ending knowledge of the reality of all things.