Category Archives: Dharma Talk

Discussion, interpretation, and speculative exegeses of the Buddhadharma from a universal, non-sectarian perspective.

Discourse on the True Teaching of the White Lotus Flower: Part 4

Presented to the Riverview Dharma Centre on Sunday, October 1, 2017.

FOURTH TALK

Chapters 23 – 28

Chapter XXIII The History of Bodhisattva Medicine King[1]

medicine20buddha20800x600The bodhisattva Naksatrarajasamkusumitabhijna (‘One Whose Superknowledges have Been Beflowered by the Kings of the Constellations’) asks the Buddha to recount the history of Medicine King. Medicine King is an important Mahayana bodhisattva who first appears in Chapter X, to whom the Buddha reveals that all those who hear even a single verse or phrase of the Lotus Sutra will achieve supreme and perfect enlightenment in accordance with the Law of Karma.

In response, the Buddha tells the story of the Tathagata Buddha Candrasuryavimalprabhasri (‘Pure and Bright Excellence of Sun and Moon’), who taught the Lotus Sutra to the bodhisattva Sarvasattvapriyadarsana (‘Seen with Joy by All Living Beings’). ‘Seen with Joy by All Living Beings’ attained the samadhi that ‘displays all manner of physical bodies,’ and made offerings to the Buddha, including the sacrifice of his own body. Because of this sacrifice, ‘Seen with Joy by All Living Beings’ was spontaneously reborn in the pure realm or Buddha field of ‘Pure and Bright Excellence of Sun and Moon’ in the house of King Vimaladatta (‘Pure Virtue’) seated in the cross-legged posture, whereupon he flew up approximately 210 meters (686 feet) into the presence of the Buddha ‘Pure and Bright Excellence of Sun and Moon’ seated on a “platform.”[2] The Buddha tells ‘Pure and Bright Excellence of Sun and Moon’ that tonight the Buddha will experience his passing on. The Buddha entrusts the dharma to ‘Pure and Bright Excellence of Sun and Moon’, and directs him to build stupas for whatever relics remain, whereupon he passes on in the last watch of the night (approximately 2 or 3am to 6am, about the same time that Shakyamuni Buddha is supposed to have attained enlightenment). ‘Pure and Bright Excellence of Sun and Moon’ cremates the Buddha and, overcome by grief, he burns his forearms, which are miraculously restored by an Act of Truth. We are familiar with the Power of Truth from the Pali Canon, which the Lotus Sutra explains as an oath that is real and not vain.

The Buddha tells ‘One Whose Superknowledges have Been Beflowered by the Kings of the Constellations’ that ‘Seen with Joy by All Living Beings’ was the bodhisattva now known to the assembly as Medicine King, who sacrificed his body, which surpasses all other offerings, to the dharma billions of times in past lives. Just as self-sacrifice is the supreme virtue, so is the Lotus Sutra the supreme and most profound sutra, like Mount Sumeru, the axis of the world; the sun; the moon; or the sage king, destroying all obscurities and imperfections.   In particular, it is the sutra of the bodhisattva path, with the power to save all living beings.

Like a clear, cool pond, it can slake the thirst of all. As a chilled person finds fire, as a naked person finds clothing, as a merchant finds a chief, as a child finds its mother, as a passenger finds a ship, as a sick person finds a physician, as darkness finds a torch, as a poor person finds a jewel, as the people find a king,  as a commercial traveller finds the sea, as a candle dispels darkness, this scripture of the Dharma Blossom also, in the same way, can enable the beings to separate themselves from all woes, from all sickness and pain, and can loose all the bonds of birth and death.[3]

The merit of hearing, writing, or worshipping it is limitless. The same is said of the present chapter of the Lotus Sutra. A woman hearing this chapter of the Medicine King will never again be reborn in an inferior body. If she practises it, she will be reborn in the Western paradise called Sukhavati (lit. ‘full of joy, blissful’), the pure land of Amitabha, the Buddha of Immeasurable Life and Light. They will gain the supernatural insights of a bodhisattva, especially the understanding of the principle of unborn dharmas (Kato et al. have “will attain transcendent powers and the assurance of no rebirth”).[4]  This will be true of the final five-hundred-year period called the Decay of the Law, characterized by the demise of the True Dharma, strife, and division. According to the Mahasamnipata Sutra (circa 414 CE) this period will begin two thousand years after the Passing On, or 1600 CE according to the best modern reckoning, ending in 2100 CE.[5] The 17th century corresponds to the Scientific Revolution, referred to in the Pali Canon as the sattantarakappa (“sword interval” or “age of science”), the General Crisis, and the intensification of the European conquest of the Americas that has led to the existential crisis of the 21st century. I have discussed this prophecy in my book, Conversations with the Buddha. A person hearing this chapter will attain the Divine Eye whereby they will see Buddhas, much as the great English bodhisattva William Blake saw infinity in the palm of his hand and eternity in an hour.[6] The new age is the age of Set, Saturn, Satan, or science (sattha), i.e., natural religion, or rationalist deism, which delivers us from death through death.  Swedenborg was of course born in 1688.

Before we all go out and immolate ourselves, however, I would like to remind the reader of the essential hermeneutic of the Lotus Sutra that the verses of the Lotus Sutra conceal innumerable secret meanings (see Chap. XIX).[7] That is to say, the Lotus Sutra is an esoteric sutra that is not to be understood literally. Similarly, Jesus advises his followers to cut off your hand or your foot or rip out your eye rather than to wind up in the unquenchable fire (Mark 9:43 ff., ASV; cf. Matt. 9:29 f.). There is a similar allusion to self-immolation somewhere in the Pali Canon, but like most sane people, I would not recommend interpreting this advice literally. The Pali Canon contains explicit warnings against committing suicide in the pursuit of salvation. The Buddha, of course, forbade the taking of life in the Five Precepts and in the Vinaya. Nevertheless, fanatics in both the Buddhist and Christian traditions have interpreted it literally, to their detriment.

Chapter XXIV Gadgadasvara[8]

The protuberance on top of Shakyamuni Buddha’s head begins to glow, and a ray originating from his forehead illuminates the eastern quarter, revealing innumerable numbers of spherical worlds, including the pure land of the Buddha Kamaladalvimalanaksatrarajasamkusumitabhijna (‘Knowledge Conferred by the King of Constellations named Pure Flower’). This realm includes the bodhisattva Gadgadasvara. The Lotus Sutra names multiple samadhis (‘meditations’) achieved by Gadgadasvara, including:

  • ‘Fine standard’;
  • ‘Dharma Blossom’;
  • ‘Pure Excellent’;
  • ‘Sport of the king of constellations’;
  • ‘No objects’;
  • ‘Seal of knowledge’;
  • ‘Enables one to understand the speech of all living beings’;
  • ‘Collects all merits’;
  • ‘Pure’;
  • ‘Play of magical powers’;
  • ‘Lamp of knowledge’;
  • ‘King of adornment’;
  • ‘Pure glow’;
  • ‘Pure womb’;
  • ‘Unshared’;
  • ‘Turns to the sun’.

Gadgadasvara declares that he will go to the earth plane to worship Shakyamuni Buddha and visit the bodhisattvas there. ‘Knowledge Conferred by the King of Constellations named Pure Flower’ warns Gadgadasvara not to disparage the earth plane, though he admits that it is filthy, because even there perfect Buddhas and bodhisattvas may be found. By the power of his samadhi ‘Knowledge Conferred by the King of Constellations named Pure Flower’ causes a rain of lotus flowers to appear on Vulture Peak. Manjushri begs Shakyamuni Buddha to tell them what samadhi ‘Knowledge Conferred by the King of Constellations named Pure Flower’ has attained, so that they too might practise it and can see his marks. ‘Knowledge Conferred by the King of Constellations named Pure Flower’ travels through several realms in order to reach Vulture Peak along with his entourage of bodhisattvas in a tower-like aerial vehicle called “seven-jewelled terrace” and ascended to a height of 210 meters (686 feet). Descending from his aerial vehicle, he approaches the Buddha, presents him with a jeweled necklace (mala?), and asks to see the body of Prabhutaratna, the dharmakaya of the Buddha in the aerial stupa from chapter XI.

Padmasri (‘Floral Excellence’) wants to know how ‘Knowledge Conferred by the King of Constellations named Pure Flower’ developed these siddhis. Shakyamuni tells Padmasri that ‘Knowledge Conferred by the King of Constellations named Pure Flower’ performed many meritorious deeds over many lifetimes, in numerous different bodies and roles, including devas and humans, even including women, as well as worshipping the Buddha ‘King of the Sound of Thunder in the Clouds.’ He also teaches the Lotus Sutra. Indeed, he can assume whatever form is necessary to save beings.

Finally, the Buddha tells Padmasri that ‘Knowledge Conferred by the King of Constellations named Pure Flower’ dwells in the samadhi called “manifestation of the body of all forms.” This samadhi is also associated with a dharani or mantra (which is not given). Gadgadasvara then returns to his own pure land and tells ‘Knowledge Conferred by the King of Constellations named Pure Flower’ everything that has occurred.

Chapter XXV The Chapter of the Many-Faceted One

 

The bodhisattva Aksayamati (‘Inexhaustible Mind’) rises and asks the Buddha why Avalokitesvara (lit. “the lord who looks down on the cries of the world”) is called “Observer of the Sounds of the World.” The Buddha declares that those who call upon the name of Avalokitesvara will gain deliverance from suffering, pain, and torment because of the great merit of the bodhisattva. Like the doctrine of the Tathagatagharba, this is another “secret doctrine” of the Lotus Sutra, in which Avalokitesvara is mentioned for the first time. Nevertheless, Avalokitesvara is also revered in Theravadin countries, where he is referred to as Natha-deva (Sri Lanka), Lokanat (Myanmar), and Lokesvara (Thailand). Although he is sometimes identified with the Future Buddha, Maitreya, this is erroneous. The Buddha’s hyperboles recall Jesus’ statement that those who have faith could move mountains, which is of course literally false, thus begging the question of what is actually meant. An interesting detail is the reference to ghosts, who apparently afflict others with an “evil eye” (Kato et al. have “wicked eyes”; Kern has “wicked designs”). As with Jesus’ pronouncement about faith, the sticking point in the Buddha’s statement is that one must have “single-minded concentration.” In previous talks, I have referred to the theory of the egregore, whereby the concentration of millions of prayers directed to a common symbolic focus results in an accumulation of merit (“psychic energy”) associated with that egregore that can be “tapped into” similarly to the principle of the Transfer of Merit. Thus, the Buddha says, “For this reason the beings should ever bear him in mind.” Avalokitesvara may also be seen as a symbolic representation of the compassion of all Buddhas, as Samantabhadra or Adi-Buddha is a symbolic representation of the universal quality of Buddhahood, and thus ultimately efficacious. From this perspective, the historicity of Avalokitesvara as a bodhisattva is moot.

The Buddha says that Avalokitesvara will appear to suffering beings in whatever forms are necessary for their emancipation, whether a buddha, pratyekabuddha, disciple, king, elder, householder, official, brahman, male or female monastic or lay follower, woman, male or female child, deva, asura, any other human or nonhuman being, or nature spirit. Thus, he appears continuously throughout the world in innumerable forms, conveying the gift of fearlessness.

Chapter XXVI Protective Verses

The bodhisattva Medicine King rises and asks Shakyamuni Buddha how much happiness can be obtained because of receiving, keeping,  reading, reciting, or copying the Lotus Sutra. The Buddha replies that anyone who reads, recites, understands, and practices as little as a single short verse of the Lotus Sutra will experience happiness greater than that of someone who makes an astronomical number of offerings to the buddhas.

Medicine King then gives a mantra to the preachers of dharma for their protection. Hurvitz notes that most of these mantras use feminine singular vocative verb forms. Kern remarks: “I take these to be epithets of the Great Mother, Nature or Earth, differently called Aditi, Prajna, Maya, Bhavani, Durga.” They are largely untranslatable.

Brave Donor, Vaisravana, Realm Holder, and ten demon (rakshasa) daughters also recite their own protective mantras for the benefit of the preachers of dharma. As a result, 68,000 thousand accept the doctrine of the unborn dharmas (“the assurance of no rebirth” according to Kato et al.; Kern has “the law that has no origin”).

Chapter XXVII The History of King Subhavyuha

The Buddha tells the assembly about Subhavyuha, King Fine Adornment, who lived incalculable ages ago, in the realm and age of a buddha called Wisdom Adorned with Flowers. This king had two sons, well-practised in the perfections of a bodhisattva, as well as the following samadhis:

  • Sun, stars, and constellations;
  • Pure ray;
  • Pure colour;
  • Pure sparkle;
  • Eternal adornment (lovely in adornment);
  • Womb of great, imposing excellence (womb/embryo of great glow);
  • Dharma blossom.

Fine Adornments was a follower of Brahmanism, but his wife and their two sons were attracted to the teachings of the Buddha, and the sons sought to hear the Buddha preach the Lotus Sutra. Persuading their father by a magical display, strongly reminiscent of the UFO phenomenon,[9] the sons seek their mother’s permission to become monastics in order to follow the Buddha, which she gives, because buddhas are as hard to find “as it would be for a one-eyed tortoise to encounter a hole in a floating piece of wood.”[10] Whereupon the whole family, including a large retinue from the king’s palace, go to where the Buddha Wisdom Adorned with Flowers is. They scatter pearls over him, and experience a vision of the buddhas, luminous, made of subtle matter, seated on a couch on a terrace with four pillars. The Buddha in his turn predicts the future buddhahood of King Fine Adornment. The king confers his realm on his younger brother and he, his wife, sons, and retinue all become monastics. After a very long time of practising the Lotus Sutra the king attains the samadhi called “adornment of all pure merit” and ascends into empty space to a height of 210 meters (686 feet).

The Buddha preaches the merits of spiritual friendship to the king. The king describes the Buddha in an interesting passage, including a reference to his eyes, which are long, broad, and blue. After praising the Buddha, the king departs.

Now the Buddha addresses the assembly and informs them that the bodhisattva Floral Excellence is none other than King Fine Adornment. His wife the lady Pure Virtue is the bodhisattva Marks of Adornment. The sons are Medicine King and Above Medicine.

Chapter XXVIII The Inspiration of Samantabhadra

The Lotus Sutra ends with Samantabhadra, the bodhisattva identified with the Adi or Primordial Buddha, coming out of the east, the direction of the rising sun, along with a vast retinue of human and nonhuman beings. Arriving at Vulture Peak, he bows to Shakyamuni Buddha and circles him seven times, clockwise. Telling the Buddha he has come to hear the Lotus Sutra, he asks the Buddha how the people will “attain” the Lotus Sutra after the Buddha passes on. The Buddha tells Samantabhdara that such a person will attain the Lotus Sutra if they fulfil four conditions:

  1. They must be the object of the protective mindful thoughts of the buddhas (Kato et al. have “be under the guardianship of the buddhas”);
  2. They must plant the roots of many excellent qualities (Kato et al. have “plant the roots of virtue”);
  3. They must “collect” a number of “right concentrations” (Kato et al. have “enter the stage of correct concentration”);
  4. They must “launch” the thought of rescuing all living beings (Kato at al. have “aspire after the salvation of all the living”).

Formally, these four conditions appear to refer to taking refuge, cultivating virtue or ethics, meditation, and generating bodhicitta.

The Sanskrit version notes that “the Dharma-circuit of the White Lotus of the True Dharma … is unbroken Thusness.”

The bodhisattva Universally Worthy declares that he will protect anyone who in the coming degenerate age receives and keeps the Lotus Sutra. Those who read and recite the Lotus Sutra will see the body of Universally Worthy, who will instruct them in the Lotus Sutra. Specifically, they will attain three mantras or “charms”: the “turning” mantra, the mantra “that can be turned to a hundred thousand myriads of millions of uses,” and the mantra of “skill in the use of dharma-sounds.” Kern has “talisman of preservation,” “talisman of hundred thousand kotis” or tens or hundreds of millions; and “talisman of skill in all sounds.”Hurvitz interprets these as “the charm that brings all other charms into one’s power”; the charm that “brings all manner of things into one’s power”; and the charm “that enables one to understand all sounds.” However, Kato et al. interpret them to refer to “the contemplation of the void,” “the contemplation of existence,” and “the contemplation of the Middle Path.”

Universally Worthy presents a practice in which one aspires to the Lotus Sutra continuously for 21 days, culminating in a vision of Universally Worthy, “mounted on my white elephant with six tusks.” Universally Worthy will teach him and give him a mantra, which he recites. Copying the sutra alone will result in rebirth in the dimension of the thirty-three gods of the Vedic pantheon, called Trayastrimsa, the highest heaven that maintains a physical connection with the rest of the world, at the peak of Mount Sumeru, at a height of 80,000 yojanas.[11]

The Lotus Sutra includes an interesting description of life in the Trayastrimsa heaven, including eighty-four thousand female musicians who entertain the inhabitants (cf. the “celestial maidens” of the Quran). This tradition of female nymphs inhabiting higher worlds is also found in the Pali Canon.

They who read, recite, and interpret the Lotus Sutra will be reborn in the Tushita (‘satisfied’ or ‘pleased’) heaven, the residence of the Future Buddha, Maitreya, as well as Shakyamuni Buddha’s mother, Maya.

Shakyamuni Buddha declares that those who receive, keep, read, recite, recall, cultivate, practise, and copy the Lotus Sutra have seen Shakyamuni Buddha himself and are “covered by his robe.” Such a one will be freed from passion,  fondness for the “manuscripts of the external paths” (the implication being that the Lotus Sutra describes an “internal” or esoteric path), and wrongdoers. They will have the Power of Merit and attain complete and final emancipation. Those who mock them will be born blind. Those who criticize the Lotus Sutra will be reborn as lepers. Those who mock the Lotus Sutra itself will be reborn ugly, deformed, and diseased. This is of course the doctrine of karmic consequences.

Upon the completion of this chapter the assembly of bodhisattvas all attain the mantra “that can be turned to a hundred thousand myriads of uses.” The assembly rejoices at the Buddha’s Word, they bow to him, and depart.

NOTES

[1] The Sanskrit title is Bhaiajyarājapūrvayoga, from bhaisajya ‘medicine, drug’  + raja ‘king, chief’ + purvayoga ‘history, olden time.’  The Chinese title is 薬王菩薩本事品 ‘medicine’ + ‘king’ + ‘bodhisattva’ + ‘origin, source; foundation, basis’ + ‘chapter.’

[2] The Sanskrit word is bodhimanda, “seat of wisdom.” Manda is the root of mandala, referring to a celestial orb.

[3] Cf. The Chaldean Oracles of Zoroaster: “The girders of the soul, which give her breathing, are easy to be unloosed” (Psel. 32 – Plet. 8).

[4] Threefold Lotus Sutra, p. 310. Kern has “he will also receive the five transcendent faculties, as well as the acquiescence in the eternal law” (Saddharma-Pundarika, p. 390).

[5] The major alternative date of 483 BCE would put the 2500th year of the Parinirvana circa 2017 CE. The traditional Theravadin date of 544 BCE, which would put the year 2500 BE circa 1956/57, corresponding to the Sixth Buddhist Council, is untenable.

[6] “To see a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour.” “Auguries of Innocence,” in the Pickering Manuscript (1803).

[7] “With this pure mental faculty, by hearing so much as a single gatha or a single phrase, he shall penetrate incalculable, limitless meanings; and after having understood these meanings, he shall be able to expound a single phrase or a single gatha for as much as a month, or four months, or even for a year, and the dharmas that he preaches shall be in accord with the import of that meaning, standing in absolutely no contradiction to the marks of reality” (Hurvitz, Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma,  p. 276).

[8] The Sanskrit title .of this chapter is Gadgadasvara, the name of a bodhisattva, meaning “stammering utterance.” The Chinese title is 妙音菩薩品, ‘clever, wonderful’ + ‘sound, noise, note, tone, news, syllable’ + ‘bodhisattva’ + ‘chapter.’ Therefore, the full translation might be ‘The Chapter of the Bodhisattva Subtle Sound.’

[9] “the two sons, taking thought for their father, danced in empty space at a height equal to that of seven tala-trees and displayed a variety of magical feats in empty space: walking, remaining still, sitting, lying down, emitting water from the upper part of their bodies, emitting fire from the lower part of their bodies, emitting water from the lower part of their bodies, emitting fire form the upper part of their bodies, or else displaying a body large enough to fill empty space, then displaying a small one, or a small one and then displaying a large one, vanishing in empty space and then suddenly appearing on the ground, sinking into the earth as if it were water, treading on the water as if it were earth.”

[10] Cf. SN 56.48. Kato et at. identify this as chapter 15 of the Samyutta Nikaya (p. 335 n. 4).

[11] The length of a yojana varies widely, between 6.4 and 15 km, according to the authority consulted. Thus, 80,000 yojanas might vary between 512,000 and 1.2 million km, with a median of 856,000 km. For comparison, the average orbital distance of the moon from the earth is 384,402 km, about half of the distance to Tayastrimsa according to the Lotus Sutra. Other authorities say that Trayastrimsa is only eighty yojanas above the earth. However, the latter distance would put Trayasrimsa at 856 km, just inside the upper limit of the earth’s atmosphere. (Kato et al. say that a yojana is 64, 120, or 160 km!)

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Discourse on the True Teaching of the White Lotus Flower: Part 3

Presented to the Riverview Dharma Centre on Sunday, August 27, 2017.

THIRD TALK

Chapters 16-22

Recap

The Lotus Sutra opens with the Buddha seated in meditation on Vulture’s Peak before a vast assembly of all different sorts of beings, including male and female monastics and householders, gods, dragons, spirits, demigods, anti-gods, mythical birds, centaurs, great snakes, humans and non-humans, and kings. The world of the Lotus Sutra is clearly a visionary world, a world of the imagination, a world of the mind, and not the common historical world that we know as the earth-plane. It is, however, emphatically not an “unreal” world.

The Buddha displays wondrous and supernatural signs, including a beam of energy that emanates from his forehead. Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, tells Maitreya, the Next Buddha, that these are signs that the Buddha intends to preach the Great Dharma, specifically the Lotus Sutra, based on historical precedents. These signs are suggestive of the luminous signs of the imminent appearance of Brahma, referred to in the Pali Canon.

The Buddha reveals to Sariputra, the disciple foremost in wisdom, that the ultimate meaning of the dharma is hard to understand. Thus, he teaches disciples according to their faculties, adapted to their limited abilities and understanding; only a Buddha can comprehend the ultimate meaning of the teachings, which is beyond rational comprehension and linguistic articulation. Despite the great variety of teachings, the Buddha says there is only One Single Buddha Vehicle, which manifests in many different forms, including the three vehicles of the disciples, hermits, and wisdom beings. Sariputra begs the Buddha to teach this ultimately explanatory dharma, but the Buddha hesitates, declaring that it would cause gods and men to fear, and that arrogant monastics would fall into a great void because of it. Sariputra persists, and the Buddha finally relents, agreeing to teach the Great Dharma.

Immediately five thousand proud and arrogant monastic and lay disciples of the Buddha walk out of the assembly, thus purifying the assembly and making it a suitable receptacle for the ultimate revelation of the Lotus Sutra. The Buddha says that a teaching such as this, which is an ancient and indeed primordial teaching, is only revealed once every three thousand years, which is the mythological frequency of the flowering of the cluster fig blossom (Ficus glomerata, Skt. udumbara) to which he refers. Known as the “blue lotus,” the udumbara plant is used in Ayurvedic medicine as an aphrodisiac and to reduce fever, amongst other uses. 3400 BCE is near the midpoint of Indus Valley Civilization (4000-2000 BCE), the original Indian civilization, as well as being close to the advent of the Kali Yuga in 3102 BCE, corresponding to the advent of urban civilization.

The Buddha declares that innumerable Buddhas pervade the universe, all teaching the same ultimate truth in a vast variety of different forms, varying according to their conditions, yet all tending toward the complete and final enlightenment of Buddhahood. He further declares the future Buddhahood of all those in the assembly, declaring their future names, realms, eras, and longevities.

The Buddha then hints at the supreme teaching of the Lotus Sutra by means of a series of seven parables, including the Burning House, the Lost Heir, the Plants, the Phantom City, the Concealed Gem, the Crest Jewel, and the Physician’s Sons (chapters 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 14, and 16 respectively). He declares the Lotus Sutra to be the supreme sutra, productive of great merit for those who hear, read, understand, keep, copy, or promulgate the sutra. Nirvana is not the goal of enlightenment, but merely the culmination of the first stage of the path, the stage of discipleship, on the way to enlightenment. Through nirvana, the adept extinguishes the imperfections and is emancipated from the mirage of samsara. They see phenomena as they really are in themselves, without distortion, and are freed from involuntary rebirth.

A stupa pyramid rises out of a void inside the earth, breaks through the ground, causes earthquakes, and hovers in the air above the assembly, followed by innumerable numbers of luminous wisdom beings. They come out of the earth and fly up to the stupa, where they join the Buddha and the gathered assembly inside what is clearly an enormous object.

Chapter XVI The Chapter of the Eternal Life of the Tathagata

The Buddha declares that he will speak, and the assembly, led by Maitreya, begs him to speak.

The Buddha declares the Buddha archetype or paradigm, the Buddhahood that is actually ancient and timeless, attained throughout endless samsara by all Buddhas. Buddhas manifest wherever and however necessary to further the spiritual development of those to whom they appear, yet within and beyond them all is the original and originating Buddhahood itself that appears to those to whom it appears in accordance with their conditions and their capacity. Since samsara is endless, so too is this Buddhahood. Therefore, it is primordial and has appeared and reappeared throughout all history and all time and space. 

Western academicians with a historicist bent regard this idea as a sort of theism and see the Lotus Sutra as a kind of reversion of Buddhism to theism, possibly even influenced by Christianity (but the opposite has also been argued). However, we do not need to look to Christianity to understand the influences of the Lotus Sutra. Far more likely is the doctrine of the Tathagatagarbha, the Buddha “womb” or “embryo” that represents the innate potentiality of every living sentient being for attaining Buddhahood. In the Pali Canon, it is described by the Buddha as “innately pure luminous mind” (Anguttara Nikaya). In the Mahayana tradition, it appears in the Nirvana Sutra (100-220 CE) and implicitly in the Lotus Sutra.  This is the preeminent “secret teaching” of the Lotus Sutra that is credited with the potential to catalyze enlightenment itself.

The Buddha made it clear that nirvana does not mean that the Tathagata is literally extinguished – he condemned nihilism – but that he is emancipated from all conditions, including involuntary rebirth, in an immortal (i.e., timeless) state. He sees things as they are, from a transdual perspective, in which samsara itself appears illusory, neither existent nor nonexistent. This is directly contrary to the Hinayana, which hypostasized phenomena as inherently suffering, transient, and non-self-identical beings.  This hypostatization of illusion creates an insuperable barrier to realization, similar in fact to the self-negating teachings of the Jains.

The Buddha tells the parable of the Good Physician. In his absence his sons drink toxic medicines and some lose their minds. The doctor gives the sons who still have their senses an herbal medicine that restores them to health and sanity, but the mad sons refuse to take the medicine, declaring that it is no good. Such is the state of the world. Therefore, the physician plans a ruse. He leaves the medicine with the sons and then sends back a messenger to tell them that he has died. Hearing this, they become so remorseful that they take the medicine and are cured. The sons who take the medicine are the wisdom beings, and they are cured of the suffering of existence, whereas those sons who cling to their suffering are the adepts, who refuse to realize that the First Noble Truth is belied by the fact of enlightenment, and thus is itself transient (everything true of samsara must be transient). However, in the end all realize the truth of the bodhisattva path and the transience of suffering and indeed of transience itself, thus realizing the Great Dharma.

In all this it should also be realized that samsara is not merely toxic, it is also medicinal, the poison of desire also being the method of emancipation (cf. Chapter V). The things that can kill us can also cure us. This establishes the premise for the way of transformation of the Inner (or Internal) Tantra.

Chapter XVII The Chapter of Efficacious Merit

An even greater number of wisdom beings were able to “take hold” of the “gateway of the dharanis,” or mantras, including a universally efficacious mantra (a panacea, in fact), and operate the wheel of dharma.[2] Many of these will attain enlightenment. After the Buddha spoke space was filled with a rain of flowers, sandalwood and other incenses, fine garments, and the sound of drums was heard.he Buddha declares to Maitreya that an incalculable number of beings (the number of grains of sand in 680 millions of nayutas of Ganges rivers, a nayuta being 100 billion) accepted the doctrine of the unborn dharma because of the revelation of the previous chapter.[1]

The Buddha declares that the merit of believing in or even just understanding the revelation of the Lotus Sutra is beyond calculation, far greater than the cultivation of the five perfections (generosity, morality, patience, energy, and meditation), but specifically not the perfection of wisdom, once again emphasizing the special role of wisdom in relation to the other perfections that I have emphasized in my talks on the Pali Canon. The perfection of wisdom is especially efficacious if it is received through a continuous face-to-face transmission. The Buddha reiterates that the merit of one who hears, promulgates, holds, writes down, or worships the sutra is incalculable and their purified senses will perceive the earth-plane as a pure land. Hurvitz says that such a one holds the Tathagata in his head. Kern has “carries on his shoulder.”  Similarly, the vodouisant carries the loa on their head! He will quickly come to the Knowledge of All Modes (Kato has “perfect knowledge”).  Another term is “omniscience.”

Chapter XVIII The Chapter of the Exposition of Meritorious Joy

Maitreya asks the Buddha how much joy a man or a woman who celebrates the Lotus Sutra will experience as a result. The Buddha says that if such a person preaches the Lotus Sutra such that fifty people also celebrate it, the joy that they all experience, even to the fiftieth person, will be incalculable. Moreover, anyone who accepts the Lotus Sutra will be reborn in a healthy and handsome body with great worldly benefits, including rebirth in higher worlds, where they will inhabit aerial vehicles (vimanas).[3]

The Lotus Sutra further describes the Buddha in phrases similar to the Pali Canon’s “32 and 80 marks of a great man,” including having beautiful lips, tongue, and teeth; a long, high and straight nose; round and full face; high and long eyebrows; broad, even, and upright forehead; and, interestingly, a perfect penis!

Chapter XIX The Chapter of the Profit of the True Teacher

The Buddha declares that anyone who accepts and keeps the Lotus Sutra will purify their sense organs, including their body and mind, such that they see everything in the “thousand-millionfold” world, both hidden and exposed, from the lowest hell to the Pinnacle or Summit  of Existence. The Pinnacle of Existence is equivalent to the sphere of neither perception nor non-perception of the formless realm. All living beings and their various karmic causes and conditions are included, without attachment, even if they have not acquired the Divine Eye, Ear, Nose, Tongue, Body, or Mind.

The various sensations that are described in the sutra are typical effects of advanced yoga practice or psychedelic experience. The references to Light Sound and Universal Purity may be equivalent to the Devas of Radiant Glory and Streaming Radiance.  Other cosmological references are familiar, including the Avici hell, Mount Meru (Sumeru) and its Iron Circle, the oceans within the iron rim, and the Brahma world. The qualification “without and within” suggests a recognition these worlds are objective and subjective, similar to Jung’s concept of the psychoid. Similarly, the “palaces” of the gods, which are interestingly both male and female, also refer to “aerial vehicles” or UFOs. Kato et al. refer to Light Sound as the second realm of meditation heavens, and Universal Purity as the third realm of meditation heavens.

The purification of consciousness results in its progressive refinement, such that one’s nervous sensibility can be vastly expanded. I have read, for example, of a North American shaman who could hear the sound of a tree falling in the forest in the wilderness where they lived. The Pali Canon refers to a mental body that is generated by the practice of the jhanas. Here we learn that those who keep the Lotus Sutra “will obtain a pure body like pure crystal which all the living delight to see,” and they will experience the totality of the macrocosm in their body.

With respect to the mind, the Buddha says that “with this pure mental faculty by hearing so much as a single gatha or a single phrase, he shall penetrate incalculable, limitless meanings; and after having understood these meanings he shall be able to expound a single phrase or a single gatha for as much as a month, or four months, or even for a year and the dharmas that he preaches shall be in accord with the import of that meaning, standing in absolutely no contradiction to the marks of reality.”  Thus, the verses of the sutra have “finite and boundless meanings” that can be discerned by the enlightened mind. Similarly, the number of Buddhas in the universe is infinite.

Chapter XX  The Chapter of Sadaparibhuta

The Buddha adds that in addition to the merits obtained by one who keeps the Lotus Sutra, contrarily, one who abuses or maligns them will experience great demerit. The Buddha implies that through the realization of the doctrine of the Four Noble Truths one attains the grade of disciple, characterized by the experience of nirvana (thus nirvana corresponds to the lowest grade of spiritual development); through the realization of the doctrine of Interdependent Origination one attains the grade of hermit; and through the realization of the doctrine of the Six Perfections one attains the grade of wisdom being, characterized by the experience of enlightenment and the wisdom of Buddhahood itself. The bodhisattva path subsumes all lower paths. The purification of the six sense faculties also extends one’s longevity.

Each Buddha appears at the nadir of human civilization, and inaugurates an eon divided into two phases, the Righteous Law and the Counterfeit Law. The second half of the eon, called the eon of diminution, is characterized by increasing famine, pestilence, and war. This period is also characterized by evil laws, the absence of moral restraint, erroneous doctrines, and short and brutish lives. This view of samsaric history is cyclical, as in the Pali Canon.

Chapter XXI  The Chapter of the Spiritual Influence of the Tathagata

The wisdom beings of the earth, who emerged out of the earth in chapter 15 and are now seated around the Buddha in the stupa UFO, “equal in number to the atoms in the thousandfold world,”[4] declare their intention to teach the Lotus Sutra so as to attain the Great Dharma, whereupon the Buddha and the whole assembly extend their tongues and emit innumerable rays of coloured light, reaching to the limits of the multiverse. After a long time they spit and snap their fingers, casing the earth to tremble and shake. Turning toward the earth, they all join their palms and chant, “Namah Sakyamunibuddaya,” that is, “Homage to the Shakyan sage, the Buddha.” This is according to the Chinese text. The Sanskrit text gives a longer mantra, “Namo bhagavate Sakyamunaye tathagatayarhate samyaksambuddhayeti vacam bhasante sma.” They scatter vast numbers of offerings including floral scents, necklaces, banners, parasols, etc. across the earth plane.  Interestingly, the earth is always referred to as a “plane,” and in post-quantum physics, it has been discovered that the topography of space is actually two dimensional, not three dimensional as it appears. This has led to the speculation that the universe is in fact a hologram!

The Buddha declares the merit and spiritual powers resulting from the concentration of the Tathagata to be infinite, and refers to the Lotus Sutra as a treasure house containing all the secrets of the Tathagatas. He says that all Buddhas are “emanations” of the primordial Buddha archetype or paradigm, that is both “without and within.”

Chapter XXII  The Chapter of the Essential Gift[5]

This chapter appears at the end of the Sanskrit edition of the Lotus Sutra, corresponding to chapter 27. However, Kumarajiva placed it here. Bunno Kato et al. argue in favour of Kumarjiva’s change.

Shakyamuni Buddha rises from his seat and in a gesture of benediction touches the heads of the wisdom beings with his right hand three times and entrusts the self-evident dharma of enlightenment to the wisdom beings, whereupon the wisdom beings experience an intense bodily ecstasy. The emphasis on the body recalls Buddhaghosa’s statement that the meditation on the body is a unique revelation found only in the Buddhadharma.[6] The sutra declares that the Buddhas in the assembly are emanations of his true body, the dharmakaya, the body of reality itself.

NOTES:

[1] However, we know from Kern that the cyphers can be ignored (Suddharma-Pundarika, p. 149, n. 3; etc.). This number, 680, is extremely interesting. It is the cube of 2 × 5 × 17, and is a tetradedral, or triangular pyramidal, number. It represents a pyramid with a triangular base and three sides (cf. chapter 11). The tetrahedron is the fundamental structural unit of existence according to R. Buckminster Fuller, an idea revived in the unified quantum theory of reality of the Quantum Gravity Research (QGR) group, a scientific think tank founded by Klee Irwin (whether Irwin knows that he has rediscovered Fuller’s theorem I am not sure). The sutra’s emphasis on “open space” is interesting in this context. Interestingly, 68 is also a “happy number,” which means that repeatedly adding up the sum of the squares of its digits leads eventually to unity.

[2] Kern has “obtained the dharani that makes a hundred thousand kotis [ten million] of revolutions” (ibid, p. 311). Kato notes that “the door, or method, of the hearing and keeping of dharani” refers to the first of our “fearlessness” of a wisdom being, fearlessness in proclaiming all truth. The other three are proclaiming the truth of perfection, exposing obstacles to the truth, and proclaiming the way to end all suffering.  Kato further notes, “the dharani of numberless revolutions or evolutions is the power to discriminate manifold phenomena without error. By this discrimination a bodhisattva destroys all his perplexities and exhibits many Buddha-laws” (Threefold Lotus Sutra, p. 257 f. and nn. 1 and 2).

[3] Hurvitz notes the alternative translation, “palaces,” but opines that vehicles is what is meant.

[4] About ten quadrillion vigintillion and one-hundred thousand quadrillion vigintillion atoms (1078 to 1082), according to modern scientific reckoning.

[5] This is chapter XXVII of the Sanskrit (Kern) edition of the Lotus Sutra, entitled anuparīndanāparivarta (anu + parindana + parivartah). Skt. anu = ‘fine, minute, atomic’; parindana = ‘gratification, present.’ The Chinese title is 嘱累品 – ‘enjoin, implore, urge’ + ‘bind together, twist around; accumulate involve, implicate; tired, weary, strain, work hard.’ Kern gives it the title dharmaparyaya, ‘turning the dharma,’ i.e., inaugurating the cycle.

[6] Cite Sarah Shaw.

Discourse on the True Teaching of the White Lotus Flower: Part 2

Presented to the Riverview Dharma Centre on Sunday, July 30, 2017.

SECOND TALK

Chapters 10-15

 

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.[1] 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.

Note

[1] 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.