Lotus Sutra Essay Example
As the proverb goes, a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. If that step is perfect, it may be the only step a traveler needs. The Mahayanist (Greater Vehicle) School of Buddhism spread into Korea, China, Japan, and Tibet with one goal: saving the whole world. The best means of achieving that goal is the Lotus Sūtra. Within its pages, the great Shakyamuni Buddha divulges many keys to enlightenment, such as perspective, the ultimate nature of reality, and how one can grasp these teachings and enter nirvana. Paradoxically, one cannot enter or leave nirvana since nirvana is everywhere. One can practice the teachings of the Sūtra by reading, reciting, copying, and paying homage to the text. However, the most intense sacrifices are not available to most, and illiterate people have a more difficult time complying with the practices. Ultimately the reader must make the final leap to enlightenment by himself.
To fully benefit from the Sūtra, one must uphold it. These pages -- and all of life -- are the very essence of The Buddha. This text is the very nature of reality and vice versa. In it, Shakyamuni embodies all forms as stated in Chapter 16, “I employ...similes, parables, and phrases and preach different doctrines. This, the Buddha’s work, I have never for a moment neglected,” so this text must be his work itself, not a description of it (226). In Daniel B. Stevenson’s Chapter of Readings of the Lotus Sūtra, one must practice “Upholding, reading, reciting, explaining, and copying,” to reap benefits (137). All these methods deal directly with the text, rather than implementing doctrine into interpersonal relations. Of course, with a text as powerful as this, one cannot simply go through the motions of these practices: one must enact them properly. Self-purification, placing the book on an altar, praying to Buddha before reading, circumambulating the altar, and making offerings to the Buddha are all necessities. The end of the Sūtra outlines these processes and states that anyone who commits these actions will be favored by the Buddha himself. However, the most favorable sacrifice, the lighting of oneself on fire, is not pragmatic for everyone. Similarly, those who cannot read face problems in their practice.
The more extreme the sacrifice made to Buddha, the more karmic reward one will receive. This led to some challenges for the common man’s daily practice. For example, in the tale of the Medicine King, the titular character utilizes his supernatural abilities to honor the Buddha. Naturally, he wants to give more, so he ponders what the most powerful sacrifice would be. Finally, he decides to burn himself in honor of the Buddhas. They responded extremely favorably by proclaiming, “Excellent, excellent, good man! This is true diligence… Among all donations, this is the most highly prized, for one is offering the Dharma [the true nature of reality] to the Thus Come Ones!” which illustrates extreme means by which one can gain favor with the Buddhas (282). However, self-immolation cannot apply to those who wish to build up karma and progress along the path to enlightenment in this lifetime. If one were to self-immolate, a trend that spread throughout Japan following this teaching, he would leave his family behind which raises moral questions. Furthermore, options became more limited to those who could not read, because they would have needed access to a literate person to help them memorize the Sūtra (Stevenson 139). Without reading and copying at their disposal, illiterates focused on explaining, upholding, and reciting. This contradicts the idea that Dharma, nirvana, and enlightenment are available to everyone. This “Single Vehicle,” as the Buddha himself calls it, is not quite as ubiquitous as initially promised. The Sutra can only bring its pupil to the brink of enlightenment; the final, perfect step must be placed by the student.
The process of enlightenment entails a shift in perspective from becoming a person in the universe to being a person with the universe, then, by extension, being the universe itself. Every person is the Buddha. This book -- and Buddhism itself -- attempts to illustrate “Tathātā,” or suchness, or the ultimate inexpressible nature of all things. The Buddha takes every form in the universe, even yours, to teach and save every being in this world, even yours.
Each person is indescribably special; we are all one and the same Tathātā. This is the realization the Lotus Sūtra teaches, and it cannot be forced into the head of a pupil by any teacher or doctrine. However, as one repeats and instills this miraculous Lotus Sūtra, neural networks form involving the text. As one recites and pays homage, this text becomes a piece of his identity. Someday, it may become his whole being. This explains why, upon immersion in the Sūtra, “The benefits [one] gains thereby will be such that even the Buddha wisdom could never finish calculating their extent,” because if one is to truly embody the Sūtra, they will recognize themselves as this suchness. (287). This Tathātā is the essence of the Lotus Sūtra. Tathātā is the Sūtra.
If one steps rightly just once, he will be able to recognize himself as this suchness preached by Shakyamuni Buddha himself in the Lotus Sūtra. The more one immerses himself in the content of the text, the closer he will become to realizing this. The closer he is, the easier it is for him to simply flip that internal switch of complete and utter recognition. It makes complete sense for the Buddha to instruct his followers to uphold this holy text. All of these practices are, as it were, expedient means because no words, doctrine, practice, or repetition can even come close to describing Tathātā. Thus, one needn’t commit self-immolation or even be able to read, although both of these would help. One must continue these practices in the hope that someday, that internal switch inside him will flip and he will not become a Buddha but realize he has always been one.