The Lotus Sutra

In Buddhism there is no single scripture which could considered a "Buddhist Bible". This is because after the Buddha attained enlightenment he transmitted many teachings to different people he met, and taught in many places around india. He tailored his message to the people he met, adjusting the emphasis of his teaching according to their capacities, dispositions, characters and their stage along the path.


The Buddha’s teachings and words were so highly valued that people would travel from far away to hear him speak, and his sermons were memorised by his followers. These accounts were later written down, and they are so numerous that the Buddha is said to have taught 84,000 teachings, or sūtras. 


In Indian culture the number 84,000 signifies an uncountable, innumerable number, because during the Buddha’s life he would give advice and teaching on many things - almost every situation in his life was an opportunity for him to teach something to those around him. Thus the number of lessons he gave must have been 84,000, or uncountable. In actual fact there are around 6,000 sūtras in existence today. 


Of these numerous sūtras, there is one known as the Lotus Sūtra, or to give it its full title, the "Sūtra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma", which the Buddha taught in the last eight years of his life. The Buddha said that until that point, he had not revealed the complete truth of his enlightenment, and that the purpose of his previous teachings was to lead people to be able to understand this sūtra, his final teaching. 


The Lotus Sūtra is composed of twenty eight chapters. The first fourteen chapters are referred to as the theoretical section, and the remaining fourteen chapters are known as the essential section. The first half of the Lotus Sūtra explains that all people can attain enlightenment. This is explained in various ways. Before the Lotus Sūtra, there were two types of practitioner, the śrāvaka and pratyekabuddha, who believed that they didn't possess the ability to attain Buddhahood. The previous sūtras had taught this because these people believed that they had achieved the supreme way already. However, in the Lotus Sūtra, Śākyamuni Buddha reveals that with the way of the Bodhisattva, śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas can in fact also attain Buddhahood. 


Furthermore, the Buddha also assures many monks, nuns, and lay people of their Buddhahood. In chapter 12 of the Lotus Sūtra, Devadatta, the cousin of the Buddha who tried more than once to kill the Buddha and take over the Sangha (community of believers) is assured of his future attainment of enlightenment. Pre-Lotus sūtras taught that Devadatta, and other evil people, could never attain enlightenment. 


In the same chapter, the daughter of a Dragon King also achieves Buddhahood. It was believed that the only way women could attain enlightenment was to reborn as men in their next lifetime. The Lotus Sūtra reveals that women are also able to attain Buddhahood in their present lifetime. The Dragon King's daughter is not only a woman, but also non-human - showing that all living beings possess the ability to attain Buddhahood. One of the main teachings of the Lotus Sūtra is that everyone can attain enlightenment, and the teaching of absolute equality among all living beings. 


Based on this theoretical understanding, the second half of the Lotus Sūtra focuses on how we can live our lives as Buddhists. In Chapter 16, "The Duration of the Life of the Tathāgata" chapter, a major revelation is made by the Buddha. Until that point, people believed that Śākyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bo tree at Gayā, India. However, he reveals that his life is eternal, and that he actually attained enlightenment in the remotest past. That meant that Śākyamuni Buddha has been leading all living beings in this world since, and will always lead all living beings. The Lotus Sūtra explains that the Buddha has appeared in this world under various names in the past and appeared to enter into Nirvāṇa (extinction) only in order to lead people,because  if he had always appeared as the Buddha, they would have become lazy, and relied on him too much, not making effort by themselves. This is the reason why Śākyamuni Buddha appears to enter into Nirvāṇa - in order to awaken our hearts and have us realise the difficulty of meeting the Buddha. This Chapter shows another main theme of the Lotus Sūtra - that the Buddha is Eternal, and always present in the world. If we practise Buddhism, and make effort to see the Buddha, to realise the Buddha in all, we will be able to receive his guidance and merits.


Chapter sixteen closes with the Buddha saying “I am always thinking: How shall I cause all living beings to enter into the unsurpassed way and quickly become Buddha?" This is Śākyamuni Buddha's great compassionate vow to save and lead all living beings all the time. The Buddha, and therefore his enlightenment, is accessible at all times in all places, within all people. Buddhists refer to this potential as the "Buddha-nature" inherent within our minds.

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