30 May 2013

Lotus Sutra Study Questions 23

This is about trust, faith, and commitment:  sticking to something that is sacred, something you value, even when you do not know how it will turn out, and even if it means making intensive sacrifices of one kind or another to make it work.  That is Chapter 23, which is presented as a past-life story of Medicine King Bodhisattva. 

As the story goes, in a time long ago one Gladly-Seen-By-All-Beings Bodhisattva made an offering of his body to a Buddha named Sun-Moon-Pure-Bright-Virtue by consuming fine incense and fragrant oils and setting his body alight with the pure intention of dedicating himself to the Dharma.  There was no way to know how this method would turn out, but in the story, it worked:  he was transformed, radiating intense light for an exceptionally long interval of time, and after finally dying, he took rebirth again in the company of the same Buddha.  After building many multitudes of stupas (monuments) for that Buddha's own mortal remains, Gladly-Seen Bodhisattva burnt off his own arms as an offering out of devotion to those stupas, again without knowing in advance how this would work.  His body was restored to health, intact, and he learned from the experience.

Sakyamuni Buddha goes on in this chapter to state that "Anyone who aspires for, and wishes to attain Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, should offer a light to the stupa of the Buddha by burning a finger or a toe" (304).  There are Buddhist communities in which this practice is taken literally to this day; one can speculate that the self-immolations that have become famous in the last hundred years in Buddhist countries may have some relation to this practice.  In any event,  I do not wish for anyone to do this in our sangha.  Instead, I suggest what may be more difficult sacrifices:

*Offer your doubts and fears to the Buddha in your heart and set them on fire, imagining them to smell like sweet incense and to shine with the light of ten thousand suns.

*Offer your ignorance, arrogance, short-sightedness, cowardice, closed-mindedness, selfishness, hatred, jealousy, impatience, pride, aggression, and any other poisons of the heart in the same way, in a spirit of devotion.

*Respect the multitude of sentient beings you meet as though they contain the living relics of the Buddha in the way this ancient Bodhisattva did.  Because they do.  Use both arms if you can.

This leaves only one question:  what remains after these poisons are burned away and resolve into emptiness?  What is left behind?

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