Presented to the Riverview Dharma Centre on Sunday, July 30, 2017.
The Message of the Lotus Sutra So Far
The Lotus Sutra is rooted in the Pali tradition and maybe even in the Pali or at least a similar Prakrit language. Although it appears extremely innovative, we know from our talk on “The Early Buddhist Schools” that about half of the early Hinayana schools were moving towards a more imaginative understanding of the dharma. The original stratum of the Lotus Sutra goes back to the first century BCE, about the same time that the Pali Canon was first written down. The Lotus Sutra is highly revered by Mahayana Buddhists and has even been credited with catalyzing enlightenment in at least one receptive reader, Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1768), reviver of the Rinzai school of Japanese Zen, while reading the third chapter. Three large themes have been identified in the Lotus Sutra:
- The ultimate unity of all teachings;
- The primordial Buddha archetype; and
- The bodhisattva vow (bodhicitta) as the essential method of the path.
The lotus is a Buddhist symbol of body, speech, and mind. The lotus flower or blossom is an emblem of realization, untainted yet rooted in the mud of samsara. Similarly, the bodhisattva enjoys the fruits of realization but remains involved in the world out of compassion for suffering beings.
In the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha refers to himself as the Tathagata, a somewhat mysterious word translated by Hurvitz as the “Thus Come One.” The Lotus Sutra is the revelation of the essential mystery of the Tathagata, conceived in the interiority of his own enlightened mind. Thus, the Lotus Sutra is the direct manifestation of enlightenment itself, whereas the Pali Canon manifests enlightenment through the conditionality of unenlightened and samsaric experience. Thus, the Lotus Sutra is radiant and ecstatic, whereas the Pali suttas largely (though not exclusively) emphasize suffering and ignorance. This insight explains the essential difference of form between the two oeuvres.
The Lotus Sutra declares itself to be Buddhavacana, the authentic words of the Buddha, yet it is presented in an obviously transhistorical way, thus raising the question of what it means to be Buddhavacana and the nature of reality itself. The phantasmagorical world of the Lotus Sutra is a fantastic dharma display from the perspective of direct realization. The Lotus Sutra is a sort of opera, where the Buddha is the central figure of a vast cast of innumerable sorts of beings, all engaged in a series of grand speeches and gestures, in the course of which the Buddha progressively reveals his superior and indeed superlative, transcendent understanding of the dharma. It is a remarkable coincidence that the Lotus Sutra originated about the same time that Jesus taught the Gospel in Galilee and Jerusalem, fufilling the same function in relation to the Abrahamic tradition that preceded him.
The cosmology of the Lotus Sutra is the cosmology of Buddhism: an extended horizontal dimension consisting of a virtual infinity of universes, galaxies, solar systems, planets, beings, and atoms, as a single plane of a vertically extended hierarchy of greater or lesser degrees of energy, sentience, suffering, wisdom, and power. Broadly, this vertical axis consists of the divine realm, the human realm, and the demonic realm. The whole system functions in accordance with the law of causality (karma) and the principle of interdependent origination (pratityasamutpada).
This includes astronomical phenomena and luminous aerial “cars” or palaces, time dilation, and travelling through higher dimensions of experience over vast epochs of time. Here gods and men interact.
The Buddha’s teaching method is described as a stratagem or “skilled method” (upaya) whereby an infinity of buddhas throughout time have sought to communicate the dharma to suffering beings by the most effective means adapted to the strengths or limitations of the hearers themselves, thus creating the appearance of a great diversity of teachings whereas there is in fact only one method that leads to one singular end: supreme nondual enlightenment, anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, which may be literally rendered as ‘ultimate perfect wisdom.’ The dharma is like a universal rain nourishing the diversity of beings everywhere in the multiverse without distinction.
The Lotus Sutra declares that all methods are merely preparations for the path of the bodhisattva, without which perfect wisdom and ultimate enlightenment cannot be experienced. Moreover, the Buddha declares that ultimately all beings who aspire to enlightenment, even but for an instant, will experience complete and perfect enlightenment in accordance with the law of causality (karma), since every effect is the result of a cause and every cause must produce its correlative effect sooner or later. All possess the “precious jewel” of Buddha nature (tathagatagarbha) within themselves, and therefore enlightenment is everyone’s inherent self-nature from the very beginning. Ultimately, ignorance too is an illusion.
Chapter X A Teacher of the Law (The Preacher; Preachers of Dharma)
Chapter 10 of the Lotus Sutra represents the second phase of development of the Lotus Sutra, about fifty years after the first phase, represented by chapters 2 through 9. In this chapter the Buddha addresses eighty thousand ”great leaders” headed by Medicine King Tathagata (Skt. Bhaisajyaraja). In a former life, this bodhisattva vowed to heal the physical and mental diseases of all beings, providing many efficacious remedies for monastics.
Having heard something of the history of the Medicine Buddha, skeptics might object, how can we know that such a bodhisattva ever actually existed and if they did not exist, how can the cult of the Medicine Buddha be effective? The Tantrics will tell you that the “historical” biography of the Medicine Buddha is only his most exoteric or superficial aspect, the so-called “outer meaning.” Tantra refers to four levels of meaning of Buddhist teachings: surface meaning, secret meaning, secret within secret meaning, and secret meaning of the secret within secret meaning, which refer to increasingly subtle and profound levels of understanding.
Thus, the Medicine Buddha may be understood in different ways. The Medicine Buddha mythos or archetype may also be understood as a psychic egregore, to use a term deriving from the Western Esoteric Tradition. An egregore is a complex of psychic energy that is built up because of the concentration and worship of countless millions of living beings. This is not dissimilar from the Jungian notion of the archetype. Mind is not merely an epiphenomenon of matter but an influential reality in its own right, an idea that we also find in quantum physics interestingly, without regard to questions of historicity. This is the inner meaning of the Medicine Buddha. The secret meaning of the Medicine Buddha is that the Medicine Buddha is an aspect, vector, mode, or “ray” of the Buddha archetype, the primordial Buddha paradigm that is the commonality of all Buddhas, the Buddhahood of Buddhas if you like, which has been called Adi-Buddha, “primordial Buddha,” and identified with Samantabhadra, the patron of the Lotus Sutra, and others. The Primordial Buddha is not an historical being at all, but rather the abstract principle of Buddhahood itself. It represents the healing power of the Buddha archetype. This is the secret meaning. Finally, the most secret meaning of the Medicine Buddha is that it is the Buddha nature itself, and is thus identical with the True Self of every person, the fundamental nature of which is emptiness (shunyata) or non-self-identity (anatta) (paradoxically, the True Self is no-self, a statement that is only intelligible from the transdual perspective). These different levels of meaning, while not mutually exclusive, progress toward ever-increasing ultimacy. Thus, the historical objection is moot. A similar line of argument applies to the Mahayana itself. The Hinayana is the outer meaning of the dharma. The Mahayana is the inner meaning of the dharma. The Vajrayana is the secret meaning of the dharma. In addition, the Ekayana is the most secret meaning of the dharma.
The “great leaders” consist of gods, dragon kings, nature-spirits (yakshas and gandharvas), demigods or demons (asuras), large humanoid bird-like creatures (garudas), centaurs (kimnaras), great serpents (mahoragas), male and female monastics and lay devotees, and various types of seekers, including disciples, solitary practitioners, bodhisattvas, and Buddhas, subsuming the three paths. The Buddha reiterates that those who hear a single word of the Lotus Sutra but for a momentary instant in the presence of the Buddha or after his final emancipation will attain ultimate enlightenment.
The Buddha recommends to the assembly that the Lotus Sutra should be regarded as the Buddha incarnate and worshipped to be reborn as bodhisattvas in the evil human world of suffering. Thus, bodhisattvas are able to be reborn where they will as sons and daughters of the Buddha and keepers of the dharma, destined to become Buddhas themselves, accomplishing the self-arising and spontaneous intuitive wisdom. Those who disparage the Lotus Sutra or its teachers or teachings will incur great demerit, whereas those who extol the Buddha and the Lotus Sutra will acquire great merit and even greater happiness. The Lotus Sutra, the Buddha declares, is the supreme sutra of all sutras.
The Buddha says of the Lotus Sutra that “this sutra is the mystic, essential treasury of all buddhas, which must not be distributed among or recklessly delivered to men,” and the most difficult to believe and understand. Somewhat paradoxically, those who copy, keep, read, recite, worship, and preach the Lotus Sutra to others will be endowed by the Tathagata with his robe, a presumed reference to the story in the Pali Canon where the Buddha gives his robe to Mahakassapa to indicate his role as the Buddha’s successor as president of the First Buddhist Council. The Tathagata will place his hand on their heads (in blessing presumably, perhaps also to inspire their minds).
The Buddha suggests erecting a caitya, a pagoda in which sutras are deposited, for the Lotus Sutra, based on the doctrine that the Lotus Sutra is identical with the body of the Buddha. He asserts that bodhisattvas may be both lay and monastic, male and female, and that those who have heard the Lotus Sutra are walking in the true bodhisattva path and close to attaining enlightenment, because “the Perfect enlightenment of every bodhisattva all belongs to this sutra.” The Lotus Sutra reveals the meaning of the skillful method of the Buddha and is the only sutra that reveals the complete and real truth to all aspirants of whatever path and school, including Hinayana, Mahayana, disciples, solitary practitioners, and bodhisattvas.
The teacher of the Lotus Sutra should develop a great, compassionate, gentle, and patient heart based on the realization of universal voidness or emptiness. The Buddha will send spiritual protectors and shapeshifters to attend to his teaching, and even cause such a teacher and his audience to experience visions of the true Buddha as a pure and luminous being in the right circumstances. He will inspire such a teacher with the wisdom to teach the true dharma. This further implies that the Buddha continues be involved with the world, even though he dwells beyond all worlds. Thus, he is not extinct in the case of either being non-existent (nihilism) or impersonal (deism).
Chapter XI Beholding the Precious Stupa (Apparition of a Stupa; Apparition of the Jeweled Stupa)
Suddenly an enormous stupa arises (Hurvitz has “wells up”; Kato has “springs up”) out of the earth and appears to hover in the sky. The sutra gives the dimensions of the stupa as 500 yojanas by 250 yojanas (about 6000 x 3000 km (3725 x 1863 miles) following Alexander Cunningham’s estimate in Ancient Geography of India of 12 km = 1 yojana). The projection of the base (3000 x 3000) is 9 million square kilometres, slightly larger than the territory of China or America. Kern translates “stupa” as “meteoric phenomenon,” but the UFO association is obvious to us. It incorporates the abode of the Four Great Kings, the dimension 40 yojanas (480 km) above our own earth-plane. Made of precious metals and adorned with stones, banners, flags, garlands, and jeweled bells, all sorts of beings, including the inhabitants of the realm of the 33 gods, pay homage to and extol the fragrant stupa. The stupa also speaks! The Buddha identifies this stupa with the body of the Tathagata, the dharmakaya referred to in the Pali Canon. The whole story strongly suggests the story of the precious dharma wheel that appears in the sky in the Pali Canon and is identified with the sovereignty of the dharma.
The Buddha’s ajna chakra (the chakra located in the centre of the brain) emits a glow (Kato calls it a “ray signal”) and in all the directions, wherever the Buddha directs his concentrated attention, buddhas appear in beautiful pure lands and Buddha fields preaching the Lotus Sutra with ravishing voices, innumerable as the sands of the Ganges. These buddhas are all emanations of the primary Buddha archetype, and appear as hidden dimensions of ordinary space-time (samsara). All of these buddhas pay homage to Siddartha Gautama on Vulture Peak and the precious stupa in this world of suffering, which is also transformed into a beautiful pure land.
The assembled Buddhas entreat the Buddha to open the stupa, who rises into the sky and opens the door of the stupa, which makes a great sound, “with the fingers of his right hand,” wherein they all behold the undissipated body of the Tathagata Abundant Treasures (Many Jewels, Prabhutaratna), identified with the dharmakaya or ‘reality body’ of the Buddha himself, seated in meditation in the ancient, archetypal cross-legged posture that goes back to Indus Valley civilization (3rd -2nd millennium BCE). The Buddha enters the stupa and sits down in cross-legged posture, whereupon the assembly also rises into the sky to join them and hear the teachings.
Chapter XII Devadatta
Chapter 11 of the Lotus Sutra, named after the Buddha’s wicked cousin and brother in law, Devadatta, is included in chapter 11 of the Sanskrit, Chinese, and Tibetan versions of the sutra. Kumarajiva’s version divides chapter 11 into two chapters.
The Buddha says that he sought the Lotus Sutra throughout vast epochs of time as a righteous king. A hermit, Asita by name, came to him and offered to teach him the Lotus Sutra, whereas the king accepted the hermit as his guru. Asita, the Buddha says, was none other than Devadatta.
Devadatta was a Buddhist monk and the cousin and brother-in-law of the Buddha, and the brother of Ananda. Devadatta was Koliyan. He split from the Buddha’s community with five hundred other monks to form their own sangha. Most of these are said to have been Shakyan relatives of both Devadatta and Siddhattha. Devadatta became self-righteous. He began to think that he and not the Buddha should lead the sangha. Shortly afterward, Devadatta asked the Buddha to retire and let him run the sangha. The Buddha retorted that he would not even let his trusted disciples Sariputta or Moggallana run the sangha, much less one like Devadatta, “who should be vomited like spittle.”
The Buddha warned the monks that Devadatta had changed for the worse. Seeing the danger in this, Devadatta approached Prince Ajatasattu and encouraged him to kill his father, the good King Bimbisara; meanwhile, Devadatta would kill the Buddha. Devadatta then tried to kill the Buddha himself by pushing a rock down on him while the Buddha was walking on the slopes of a mountain. When this failed, he got the elephant Nalagiri drunk and sicked the enraged elephant on the Buddha while the Buddha was on alms round. However, the Buddha’s loving-kindness (metta) was so great that it overcame the elephant’s anger. Devadatta then tried to create a schism in the order.
He collected a few monastic friends and demanded that the Buddha accept the following rules for the monks: that they should live all their lives in the forest, live entirely on alms obtained by begging, wear only robes made of discarded rags, dwell at the foot of trees, and abstain entirely from fish and flesh. The Buddha allowed the monastics to follow all of these except the last if they wished. The Buddha refused to make any of these rules compulsory, however, and Devadatta went about saying that the Buddha was living in abundance and luxury – similar to the accusation made by the Group of Five before the Buddha’s enlightenment. Devadatta then created a schism and recited the training rules (patimokkha) apart from the Buddha and his followers, with five hundred novices. The Buddha sent his two chief disciples, Sariputta and Moggallana, to bring back the erring young monks. Devadatta thought they had come to join his sangha. After asking Sariputta to give a dharma talk, he fell asleep. When he awoke, he discovered that the chief disciples had persuaded the young monks to return to the Buddha.
The Buddha predicts that Devadatta will become a Buddha. Considering Devadatta’s antipathy for Siddhartha in this life the identification of Devadatta with the source of the Lotus Sutra and the Buddha’s prediction that he will become a Buddha are both remarkable. The story reminds one of the Gnostic Christian books, especially the Gospel of Judas, in which Judas is represented as the positive agent of the salvific principle. The demonic or satanic principle is somehow essential for salvation. Thus, in Tantra, evil is transformed by mental power into a force for good. The Lotus Sutra is subtly indicating its identity with an antinomian tendency that we also find in the Gnostics, Sufis, and in William Blake.
Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, predicts that that the eight-year-old daughter of the Dragon King Samara will become a Buddha, thus discountenancing the misogyny of the Pali Canon and earlier passages of the Lotus Sutra itself. Sariputra, defending the old view, challenges Manjushri’s assertion that a woman can become a Buddha. “The body of a woman is filthy and not a vessel of the Law. How can she attain supreme Bodhi?” Presenting a pearl to the Buddha (cf. chapter 14), the dragon’s daughter transforms herself in a moment into a male Buddha and realizes instantaneous enlightenment.
Chapter XIII Exhortation to Hold Firm (Exertion; Fortitude)
The Medicine King Buddha and Great Eloquence vow to keep, read, recite, and preach the Lotus Sutra throughout the evil age to come, i.e., the present epoch, characterized by arrogance and greed. All of the assembly vows to do the same. The Buddha predicts the future enlightenment of his foster mother, Mahaprajapati and his wife, Yasodhara.
Chapter XIV A Happy Life (Comfortable Conduct; Peaceful Life)
Manjushri asks the Buddha how the Lotus Sutra is to be taught. The Buddha replies that he is to dwell in the “place where the bodhisattva acts,” characterized by four methods:
- The way of the body;
- The way of speech;
- The way of mind; and
- The way of the vow.
The Way of the Body
The way of the body consists of ethical behaviour. One follows the Middle Path between realism or eternalism and nihilism, avoiding discrimination, worldlings and worldly activities, and infatuation with the female form, as well as pandakas, one of the four genders recognized in Buddhism, and teaches dharma without any expectation of reward. The precise English translation of pandaka is obscure. Hurvitz translates the word as “unmanly men,” though he acknowledges that the literal meaning of the word is “impotent,” referring specifically to inability or disinterest in performing sexually with women. Kato and Kern have “hermaphrodite.” PED has “eunuch or weakling.” Hurvitz states that homosexuals were included in this group (op. cit., p. 209fn). This condition of being impotent with women includes asexuality; full or partial impotence, whether psychological or physical; premature ejaculation; voyeurism; and fellatio. All such persons were prohibited from joining the sangha. The reference to having desire to “rear” or “keep” a young disciple or novice, however, suggests that homoerotic attraction was far from unknown to the celibate all-male sangha. Rather, one should concentrate on the Buddha and meditate in a quiet place.
Further, the bodhisattva should regard all phenomena as empty or void, seeing things as they really are, viz., not moving (a cutting edge theory of modern post quantum physics regards the universe as static, the illusion of change being the result of the dynamism of conscious intention or the act of observation), like space, beyond linguistic labelling and therefore transrational, illusory, infinite, ubiquitous, and the result of causes (karma) and conditions.
The Way of Speech
A bodhisattva should be friendly and tolerant, and constructive rather than destructive. In a passage reminiscent of the Tao Te Ching, the Lotus Sutra says, “it is because one is skilled at cultivating such comfortable thoughts as these that one’s listeners shall not oppose ones intentions.”
The Way of Mind
The bodhisattva teaches the dharma with perfect equanimity, inducing others to hear, observe, recite, teach, copy, and honour the sutra with others.
The Way of the Vow
Finally, he should manifest bodhicitta, the bodhisattva vow whereby one generates the intention to attain Buddhahood and teach the dharma out of compassion for all beings and thus bring all beings to enlightenment.
The Buddha identifies the Lotus Sutra with a “bright pearl” in the top knot of a “sage-king” (cf. Plato’s philosopher kings). The wise king only gives the crown jewel to his chosen ones. The pearl is clearly a symbol of the sahasrara chakra at the crown of the head. Similarly, the Lotus Sutra presents the Buddha’s highest teaching.
Taoism and Buddhism see the pearl as a symbol of spiritual awareness or enlightenment. The pearl in the centre of the lotus blossom symbolizes the ultimate wisdom in life, and pearls are associated with the dragon energy in Asian folklore. Pearls also represent the full moon, so prominent in Buddhist symbolism. In the Avatamsaka Sutra the metaphor of Indra’s net represents reality as a web or network where a pearl is tied into every knot in the web. The pearls represent the totality of all possibilities, where each pearl is connected to every other pearl through an infinite web symbolizing the infinite interconnectedness of all phenomena. Moreover, the surface of every pearl is like a mirror, reflecting all other pearls in the web. Jesus, of course, refers in a parable to the pearl of great price that represents the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 13:45f). Interestingly, the next parable in the Gospel refers to a net!
The wise king achieves the dharma by means of the combination of meditative concentration and wisdom, teaches the sutras and confers upon his followers such precious gifts as meditation, emancipation, “faultless roots and powers” (Hurvitz has “faculties without outflows”), and psychic powers (Kato has “all the wealth of the law”), culminating in nirvana.
Implicitly the Lotus Sutra, “the secret treasure house of the tathagatas,” is identified with the pearl, representing the highest teaching of the Buddha, by which all beings can achieve omniscience.
Chapter XV Springing Up Out of the Earth (Welling Up Out of the Earth; Issuing of Bodhisattvas from the Gaps of the Earth)
In this prelude to chapter 16 (chapter 15 of the Sanskrit edition), in which the essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra is finally plainly revealed, the assembled bodhisattvas offer to teach the Lotus Sutra to others. However, the Buddha spurns their offer, declaring that the so-called “originally converted bodhisattvas” are chosen messengers who alone can teach the Lotus Sutra in the future. These bodhisattvas have been personally taught and trained by the Buddha, and are countless in number. At that moment, the earth shakes and is split asunder by earthquakes, and out of the great clefts, there appear vast numbers of luminous “bodhisattvas of the earth” that rise out of the earth and ascend to the great aerial stupa that we encountered in chapter 11. This recalls the allusion of the Buddha’s earth-touching gesture when he appeals to the deva of the earth in response to Mara’s challenge to prove the fact of his enlightenment.
Four bodhisattvas lead the bodhisattvas of the earth: Superior Practices (the leader), Boundless Practices, Pure Practices, and Firmly Established Practices, which have been interpreted in various ways.
The bodhisattvas that rise out of the earth take their seats cross-legged all around the Buddha. The Buddha declares that Maitreya will be the next Buddha. The Sanskrit version of the text refers to the Buddha’s “manliness.”
The Buddha tells the assembly that the bodhisattvas that emerge out of the earth inhabit a vast “open space” within the earth (saha)-sphere. Here we see a possible archaic origin for the Hollow Earth Theory! This is a universal idea found in mythology, folklore, and legends, including Cabala and Tibetan Buddhism (Agharti). The inner earth is also the reputed location of Shambhala. In Greek lore, an ancient god called Zalmoxis inhabited these interior caverns. According to Celtic lore there is a cave in Station Island called Chuachan that leads to the lower realms, also known as St. Patrick’s Purgatory. The Tuatha De Danaan, who introduced Druidism to Ireland, also emerged out of the interior earth through a cave in County Down. Other similar sites include the north side of the Missouri River, whence the Mandan people are said to have originated; Cedar Creek, near the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation; and the Red River above the junction of the Mississippi River. The Cedar Creek caverns were shown to Leclerc Milford, a French military officer and adventurer, by the Creek Indians in 1781, who declared that there was room there for fifteen or twenty thousand families. Hopi tradition refers to a similar cave in the Grand Canyon. The Incas have a tradition of such a cave east of Cuzco, Peru. Many ancient peoples believed that their ancestors came out of the interior of the earth. Many believe that they still exist.
Edmond Halley, after whom Halley ’s Comet is named, proposed that the earth is hollow in 1692. Some traditions identify the interior inhabitants as “devilish.” The interior earth has more recently been proposed as the source of the UFO phenomenon. Astronomer and computer scientist Dr. Jacques Vallee in particular has suggested that the UFO phenomenon is actually terrestrial in origin. W. Holiday’s “goblin universe” idea, popularized by Colin Wilson, may also be included here. If one looks at the imaginative interpretation of the hollow earth hypothesis in fiction, it seems to be associated with inversion, archaism, high technology, secret knowledge, spirituality, alien life, and utopianism. The hollow earth meme may be a psychological projection of a reality that has a larger, more profound interpretation.
We need not take these mythologems literally to take them seriously. It is easy to see in the “the midst of the open space of this sphere” modern scientific conceptions of multi-dimensionality, in which various numbers and types of dimensions beyond the ordinary four dimensions are concealed within our experience of materiality, as well as multi-universes that may coexist but be invisible and intangible to us. The Jungian in me cannot help but notice too that these higher beings are also interior beings! That modern science is openly speculating about such things is remarkable confirmation of the primordial wisdom of our ancient ancestors whose worldview is so similar to ours even after thousands of years of aberration that persists in the incredibly shallow and naïve view of reality that pervades religion, politics, industry and even science today (so-called “scientism”). The perennial philosophy is both protean and perdurable.
The incredulous assembly, deluded by historicism, objects that the Buddha has only been enlightened for forty years, putting the age at which he taught the Lotus Sutra at 75, five years before his parinirvana (circa 405 BCE). How, therefore, can he have trained so many bodhisattvas? They beg the Buddha to explain so that they do not doubt. This is the moment of consciousness expansion that everyone has been waiting for, and the prelude to the essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra, which we will discuss in the next talk in this series.
 See Adam Rourke, “The Goblin Universe: Speculations on the Nature of Reality,” 2009, http://assets.booklocker.com/pdfs/4263s.pdf and Ted Holiday and Colin Wilson, The Goblin Universe, 2nd ed., 1990.