What appeals to you about the Lotus Sutra?

Discuss and learn about the traditional Mahayana scriptures, without assuming that any one school ‘owns’ the only correct interpretation.
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tonysharp
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What appeals to you about the Lotus Sutra?

Post by tonysharp » Fri Jun 14, 2019 7:25 am

How were you introduced to it? Do you have a favorite teaching, quote, or chapter? How often do you read or recite it? I have a very conflicted relationship with this text, and I'm looking to learn more about its appeal.
“I, Shinran, do not have a single disciple of my own. The reason is that if I could induce others to call the nenbutsu through my own influence, then they might well be called my disciples. But it is utterly absurd to call them my disciples when they repeat the nenbutsu through the influence of Amida Buddha.”
Tannisho VI

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Re: What appeals to you about the Lotus Sutra?

Post by WeiHan » Fri Jun 14, 2019 8:36 am

There are two main reasons that appeal to me.
1. The Chinese translation is extremely beautifully poetic.
2. Many ancient masters and lay people have attained high or some realization buy reciting it. Chinese text has taken the trouble to record these cases which goes to show the popularity of this sutra in ancient China.

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Re: What appeals to you about the Lotus Sutra?

Post by tkp67 » Fri Jun 14, 2019 1:33 pm

I am curious to why are you conflicted?

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Re: What appeals to you about the Lotus Sutra?

Post by tonysharp » Fri Jun 14, 2019 4:10 pm

tkp67 wrote:
Fri Jun 14, 2019 1:33 pm
I am curious to why are you conflicted?
I probably shouldn't say... :emb: But I'll say it. To put it politely, the text doesn't seem to teach very much other than how great the text itself is. Admittedly, I haven't read all of it. Maybe I wasn't patient enough.
“I, Shinran, do not have a single disciple of my own. The reason is that if I could induce others to call the nenbutsu through my own influence, then they might well be called my disciples. But it is utterly absurd to call them my disciples when they repeat the nenbutsu through the influence of Amida Buddha.”
Tannisho VI

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Re: What appeals to you about the Lotus Sutra?

Post by tkp67 » Fri Jun 14, 2019 4:40 pm

tonysharp wrote:
Fri Jun 14, 2019 4:10 pm
tkp67 wrote:
Fri Jun 14, 2019 1:33 pm
I am curious to why are you conflicted?
I probably shouldn't say... :emb: But I'll say it. To put it politely, the text doesn't seem to teach very much other than how great the text itself is. Admittedly, I haven't read all of it. Maybe I wasn't patient enough.
Based on the interpretation your feelings are quite valid. I interpret it a bit differently myself, but I did so through the commentary not through direct study.

The real context of superiority * LIMITED TO MY INTERPRETATION * is really in regards to it as a vehicle for which all previous teachings which are reconciled within. In this manner it doesn't invalidate the other teachings but puts them in context to a greater realization. I don't find the other teachings any less sacred or important or their practitioners any less valuable as humans or as buddhists. posting.php?mode=edit&f=41&p=495938#

If I felt the true meaning of this sutra was to create a hierarchy of personal righteousness based on application I would not be a practitioner. In fact understanding is that it teaches a core belief that everyone possesses a latent buddha nature that simply needs to be realized to be engaged. This is an important characteristic for me.

I can even add that it was faithful practice of the lotus school that years later allowed my mind to become settled enough that I could engage in sitting meditation. This was impossible for me before hand and has seemingly become an innate feature of my being some years later so it doesn't seem to manifest a nature foreign to that to which other practices also seek.

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Re: What appeals to you about the Lotus Sutra?

Post by FromTheEarth » Fri Jun 14, 2019 5:15 pm

First of all, I am very sympathetic with your reaction to the sutra, and wonder that many may share the same feeling. When I first read the sutra, I was on the one hand attracted to it in a way I could not fathom or describe, but on the other hand quite perplexed: besides the praises of the merits of the sutra, was there anything else in the text other than a series of parables and stories? How could this sutra as such be profound or considered the king of all sutras? So at beginning I set the sutra aside though I kept the habit of reciting chapters from it occasionally, until I met with Ven. Zhiyi's commentaries on it (Zhiyi was the de facto founder of Tiantai/Tendai, also known as the Lotus School). His commentaries, which are not fully available in English unfortunately, made the complete sense of the greatness of the sutra to me. Besides this experience that led to my personal conversion to Tiantai, I also think the way he interpreted the sutra partly accounted for the popularity of the sutra and the high regard people paid to it in East Asia.

We could talk about the Tiantai interpretation of the Lotus Sutra incessantly but I think it is not appropriate to do in this thread. Putting Tiantai aside, I would like to mention the one aspect of this sutra that appealed most greatly to me: the soteriological inclusiveness.
In the traditional Buddhist scholastic thoughts, arhats and pratyekabuddhas once having attained the nirvana could no longer attain the Buddhahood since they are no longer in the samsara, have a body or consciousness etc., to progress, roughly speaking. In contrast, bodhisattvas shall remain defiled until their last reincarnation so that they could remain in the samsara and accumulate merits. This doctrine was inherited by early Mahayana and widely present in various sutras and sastras. At least in Yogacara, this doctrine was later considered crucial and the possibility of arhats attaining Buddhahood was categorically denied.
Moreover, you also have the notion of icchantika, sentient beings that can never attain the liberation.
And you have a chapter in which a lay, child, female animal who suddenly attains Buddhahood without intermediate reincarnations, which was considered unacceptable (the devadatta chapter).
While the doctrine mentioned above and all soteriologically restrictive thoughts were explicitly denied in the Lotus Sutra, it is hard to find much related discussion in other sutras, and such categorical denial is rarely present in other texts with, of course, a few exceptions.
Also, in my daily life, I was worried about my parents, relatives, friends and teachers who were not Buddhists concerning whether they would have a good reincarnation in the future. But the Lotus Sutra promises that whoever has even the slightest connection with Buddhism, however naive or simple it is, would attain the ultimate Enlightenment. This eased my worries greatly.
So in this way I thought Westerners may find it much easier to accept the sutra: is it not a Buddhist version of the Gospels? In this text, the once excluded, i.e., the arhats and pratyekabuddhas, icchantikas,the seemingly lay, immature, female, low-class and defiled sentient beings are offered the opportunity to achieve Buddhahood. Not only liberation, but all the wisdom, merits and the highest achievement are now for all. Furthermore, at least in the orthodox-y Christianity I am acquainted with, one has to become a Christian in the present life otherwise we should worry about her, right? But according to the Lotus Sutra, there is no such burden and pressure on conversion in the present life.

Remember that this is an early Mahayana text. And if you put it in the historical context and the development of Buddhist doctrines, you would find how revolutionary and provocative it was. At least this is the part of it that I found the most intriguing.
(To continue on the analogy to the Gospels, I feel that any later Christian texts are not parallelable to the four in terms of a feeling, a spirit that is hard to explain. Maybe just the chrisma of Jesus. So do I find in the Lotus Sutra: a spirit of confidence, inclusiveness, morning-ishness that is unparalleled in later texts. But I choose not to further develop it here.)

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Re: What appeals to you about the Lotus Sutra?

Post by narhwal90 » Fri Jun 14, 2019 7:26 pm

I find the Lotus sutra interestingly lacking in instruction as compared to many others. OTOH I read sutras looking for instruction as to conduct not for things to believe in. Which isn't to say I think the Lotus sutra is not important, but perhaps the instructions are more subtle. Peaceful Practices (14) is informative, and the various parables suggest attitudes that a practitioner might try to develop.

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Re: What appeals to you about the Lotus Sutra?

Post by tonysharp » Sun Jun 16, 2019 1:28 am

I appreciate your replies.

:namaste:
“I, Shinran, do not have a single disciple of my own. The reason is that if I could induce others to call the nenbutsu through my own influence, then they might well be called my disciples. But it is utterly absurd to call them my disciples when they repeat the nenbutsu through the influence of Amida Buddha.”
Tannisho VI

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Re: What appeals to you about the Lotus Sutra?

Post by tonysharp » Mon Jun 17, 2019 1:24 pm

tkp67 wrote:
Fri Jun 14, 2019 4:40 pm
Based on the interpretation your feelings are quite valid. I interpret it a bit differently myself, but I did so through the commentary not through direct study.
This seems to be a common approach for this text.
In this manner it doesn't invalidate the other teachings but puts them in context to a greater realization.
Good point. The same could be said for many of the Mahayana and Vajrayana teachings.
In fact understanding is that it teaches a core belief that everyone possesses a latent buddha nature that simply needs to be realized to be engaged. This is an important characteristic for me.
Inclusivity is a very important issue for me, and one of the factors I use when considering an ideology. Can only select people benefit from the teachings, or do they work for everyone—in the same way—regardless of class, gender, or ethnicity? From what the late Gene Reeves says in this video, the Lotus Sutra is, indeed, inclusive.


I can even add that it was faithful practice of the lotus school that years later allowed my mind to become settled enough that I could engage in sitting meditation. This was impossible for me before hand and has seemingly become an innate feature of my being some years later so it doesn't seem to manifest a nature foreign to that to which other practices also seek.
This is great to hear.
“I, Shinran, do not have a single disciple of my own. The reason is that if I could induce others to call the nenbutsu through my own influence, then they might well be called my disciples. But it is utterly absurd to call them my disciples when they repeat the nenbutsu through the influence of Amida Buddha.”
Tannisho VI

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Re: What appeals to you about the Lotus Sutra?

Post by Queequeg » Mon Jun 17, 2019 3:06 pm

FromTheEarth wrote:
Fri Jun 14, 2019 5:15 pm
First of all, I am very sympathetic with your reaction to the sutra, and wonder that many may share the same feeling. When I first read the sutra, I was on the one hand attracted to it in a way I could not fathom or describe, but on the other hand quite perplexed: besides the praises of the merits of the sutra, was there anything else in the text other than a series of parables and stories? How could this sutra as such be profound or considered the king of all sutras? So at beginning I set the sutra aside though I kept the habit of reciting chapters from it occasionally, until I met with Ven. Zhiyi's commentaries on it (Zhiyi was the de facto founder of Tiantai/Tendai, also known as the Lotus School). His commentaries, which are not fully available in English unfortunately, made the complete sense of the greatness of the sutra to me. Besides this experience that led to my personal conversion to Tiantai, I also think the way he interpreted the sutra partly accounted for the popularity of the sutra and the high regard people paid to it in East Asia.

We could talk about the Tiantai interpretation of the Lotus Sutra incessantly but I think it is not appropriate to do in this thread. Putting Tiantai aside, I would like to mention the one aspect of this sutra that appealed most greatly to me: the soteriological inclusiveness.
In the traditional Buddhist scholastic thoughts, arhats and pratyekabuddhas once having attained the nirvana could no longer attain the Buddhahood since they are no longer in the samsara, have a body or consciousness etc., to progress, roughly speaking. In contrast, bodhisattvas shall remain defiled until their last reincarnation so that they could remain in the samsara and accumulate merits. This doctrine was inherited by early Mahayana and widely present in various sutras and sastras. At least in Yogacara, this doctrine was later considered crucial and the possibility of arhats attaining Buddhahood was categorically denied.
Moreover, you also have the notion of icchantika, sentient beings that can never attain the liberation.
And you have a chapter in which a lay, child, female animal who suddenly attains Buddhahood without intermediate reincarnations, which was considered unacceptable (the devadatta chapter).
While the doctrine mentioned above and all soteriologically restrictive thoughts were explicitly denied in the Lotus Sutra, it is hard to find much related discussion in other sutras, and such categorical denial is rarely present in other texts with, of course, a few exceptions.
Also, in my daily life, I was worried about my parents, relatives, friends and teachers who were not Buddhists concerning whether they would have a good reincarnation in the future. But the Lotus Sutra promises that whoever has even the slightest connection with Buddhism, however naive or simple it is, would attain the ultimate Enlightenment. This eased my worries greatly.
So in this way I thought Westerners may find it much easier to accept the sutra: is it not a Buddhist version of the Gospels? In this text, the once excluded, i.e., the arhats and pratyekabuddhas, icchantikas,the seemingly lay, immature, female, low-class and defiled sentient beings are offered the opportunity to achieve Buddhahood. Not only liberation, but all the wisdom, merits and the highest achievement are now for all. Furthermore, at least in the orthodox-y Christianity I am acquainted with, one has to become a Christian in the present life otherwise we should worry about her, right? But according to the Lotus Sutra, there is no such burden and pressure on conversion in the present life.

Remember that this is an early Mahayana text. And if you put it in the historical context and the development of Buddhist doctrines, you would find how revolutionary and provocative it was. At least this is the part of it that I found the most intriguing.
(To continue on the analogy to the Gospels, I feel that any later Christian texts are not parallelable to the four in terms of a feeling, a spirit that is hard to explain. Maybe just the chrisma of Jesus. So do I find in the Lotus Sutra: a spirit of confidence, inclusiveness, morning-ishness that is unparalleled in later texts. But I choose not to further develop it here.)
:good:

I would put it this way - the Lotus points to the enlightenment of buddhas (not just Buddha), annuttara samyak sambodhi, and orients the dharmadhatu accordingly, revealing samsara as not just some pointless cycle of suffering but all of it as the cause and effect of awakening. Critical to this view is the particular explanation of upaya which is declared as the single Buddha Vehicle taught as Three Vehicles as appropriate.

There is a teaching on practice that imho is as vast and profound, and in no event surpassed, and more difficult than anything you find in any other text: greeting all beings as buddhas. According to the text it's the cause that enables one to quickly awaken and attain buddhahood.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta

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Re: What appeals to you about the Lotus Sutra?

Post by tonysharp » Mon Jun 17, 2019 5:11 pm

FromTheEarth wrote:
Fri Jun 14, 2019 5:15 pm
First of all, I am very sympathetic with your reaction to the sutra, and wonder that many may share the same feeling.
Apparently, a lot of people do. The opening chapters of Introduction to the Lotus Sutra by Yoshiro Tamura attempts to ease the concerns others have had. It's been a good read.
His commentaries, which are not fully available in English unfortunately, made the complete sense of the greatness of the sutra to me.
Do you know where I could find Zhiyi's commentaries that are available in English? I'd love to read them.
And you have a chapter in which a lay, child, female animal who suddenly attains Buddhahood without intermediate reincarnations, which was considered unacceptable (the devadatta chapter).
Chapter 12 has been mentioned a few times now. I'm going to start it soon.

For me, soteriological inclusiveness, as you stated, is indicative of whether a text was composed by people with genuine wisdom or chauvinists. A predetermination, based on superficial distinctions, of someone's ability would contradict some notable Mahayana texts (i.e., the Heart Sutra). Such distinctions are said to be illusory.
Remember that this is an early Mahayana text. And if you put it in the historical context and the development of Buddhist doctrines, you would find how revolutionary and provocative it was. At least this is the part of it that I found the most intriguing.
Good point.
“I, Shinran, do not have a single disciple of my own. The reason is that if I could induce others to call the nenbutsu through my own influence, then they might well be called my disciples. But it is utterly absurd to call them my disciples when they repeat the nenbutsu through the influence of Amida Buddha.”
Tannisho VI

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Re: What appeals to you about the Lotus Sutra?

Post by FromTheEarth » Tue Jun 25, 2019 5:26 pm

tonysharp wrote:
Mon Jun 17, 2019 5:11 pm

For me, soteriological inclusiveness, as you stated, is indicative of whether a text was composed by people with genuine wisdom or chauvinists. A predetermination, based on superficial distinctions, of someone's ability would contradict some notable Mahayana texts (i.e., the Heart Sutra). Such distinctions are said to be illusory.
I would dispute this point. Prajna sutras do include paragraphs that eliminate the distinctions we commonly make among various persons and phenomena. However, such elimination is often treated as a reflection of the perspective of the ultimate truth, besides which there is also the one of conventional truth. It is in the POV of the conventional truth that we could possibly discuss soteriology, i.e., the possibility of nirvana, who could achieve nirvana etc. Arguably, that we do not have the notion of different predeterminations in the POV of the ultimate truth does not entail that in the conventional truth all sentient beings are qualified to achieve Buddhahood.
Note that in the prajna sutras, sometimes it is mentioned that the accomplished Śrāvaka practitioners' and Pratiyekabuddhas' liberation and wisdom are identical with Bodhisattvas' achievement of anutpattika-dharma-kṣānti (“...[二乘]若智若斷。是菩薩無生法忍”). That said, it seems that the distinction is still preserved in the sense that despite their equal liberation etc., the non-Bodhisattva sages are still inferior to the Bodhisattvas since they have neither completed the six Paramitas nor accumulated those many merits or knowledge of expedient means to liberate other sentient beings.
Overall, based on my very limited knowledge of at least one kind of Mahayana texts, i.e., the Prajna sutras, the soteriological inclusiveness that I referred to is not explicitly present there. I sincerely apologize in advance for possible inaccurate representations as I clearly have not exhausted all prajna sutras in my reading.

My main contention is that, however unpleasant the view that some people are soteriologically doomed, be they defiled Icchantikas or arhats, is, it is not an uncommon theme among mainstream Mahayana texts, including Prajna, Avatamsaka, Vaipulya sutras, and, orthodox Yogacara commentaries. And the authors of these texts may hold the view for understandable reasons: Abhidharma scholars and most Mahayana Buddhists believe that once you have eliminated the defilement, you would never return to the samsara to be able to accumulate more merits -- this is taken as how nirvana and the Buddhist path work and to challenge that view it seems you need to risk re-writing some fundamental doctrines of Buddhism. Later people who embrace texts such as the Lotus Sutra came up with intricate solutions but prior to that, people who hold such view need not to be called chauvinists (at least for this reason: the whole concept of Mahayana seems to me inseparable from the opposite term H**ayana, which is definitely a disrespectful, chauvinistic one).

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Re: What appeals to you about the Lotus Sutra?

Post by FromTheEarth » Tue Jun 25, 2019 5:59 pm

tonysharp wrote:
Mon Jun 17, 2019 5:11 pm

Do you know where I could find Zhiyi's commentaries that are available in English? I'd love to read them.
To be honest, I have no idea concerning reading recommendations... My apology. I would humbly defer to the Tendai subforum here.
The relevant part of his teachings I referred to in my reply, however, is commonly summarized as Five Periods and Eight Teachings, in which Ven. Zhiyi classifies all sutras into five periods of Buddha's pedagogical life, doctrines into four categories, and, pedagogical methods into four categories. The most interesting part is that in accordance with the four different teachings/doctrinal categories, each time a different understanding of the Four Noble Truths, the Twelve Nidanas, emptiness and path to awakening is presented. One would be amazed by seeing how all seemingly contradictory Buddhist teachings coherently fit into this one system. But the two texts that best explained this idea have not been translated yet to English to my knowledge (四教義 and 教觀綱宗).

But I would definitely recommend Clear Serenity, Quiet Insight, the recent complete translation of Ven. Zhiyi's magnus opus which has been repeatedly recommended by people here. The book is not cheap, but definitely something one should get whenever possible. It is a comprehensive practice (mainly shamata and vipashyana) guide founded upon the teachings of the Lotus Sutra. In contemporary China, the Buddhist community I grow in, masters often say that there are three encyclopedic Mahayana texts with the assistance of which alone you could achieve Buddhahood: Maitreya's Yogacarabhumi, Zhiyi's Mohezhiguan (this book), and, Tsongkhapa's Lamrim Chenmo. I guess you would agree they are not exaggerating after having read those texts.

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Re: What appeals to you about the Lotus Sutra?

Post by KeithA » Tue Jun 25, 2019 10:49 pm

tonysharp wrote:
Fri Jun 14, 2019 4:10 pm
tkp67 wrote:
Fri Jun 14, 2019 1:33 pm
I am curious to why are you conflicted?
I probably shouldn't say... :emb: But I'll say it. To put it politely, the text doesn't seem to teach very much other than how great the text itself is. Admittedly, I haven't read all of it. Maybe I wasn't patient enough.
Thanks for posting this thread, Tony. I had the same reaction, so I am interested to hear other folks' thoughts.

_/|\_
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Re: What appeals to you about the Lotus Sutra?

Post by Aemilius » Wed Jun 26, 2019 9:22 am

tonysharp wrote:
Fri Jun 14, 2019 4:10 pm
tkp67 wrote:
Fri Jun 14, 2019 1:33 pm
I am curious to why are you conflicted?
I probably shouldn't say... :emb: But I'll say it. To put it politely, the text doesn't seem to teach very much other than how great the text itself is. Admittedly, I haven't read all of it. Maybe I wasn't patient enough.
I had same kind of first reaction to it, long ago in 1970's. It is a mysterious scripture, when you have read it through 3 to 7 times, you would have noticed in every reading of it passages "that were not there before!", passages that suddenly contained some wonderfully important precepts and/or information, that you had not seen before. You would have started to doubt that the scripture doesn't stay the same, when after a fifth, seventh or ninth reading you still get this same kind of experience!
svaha
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Sarvē mānavāḥ svatantrāḥ samutpannāḥ vartantē api ca, gauravadr̥śā adhikāradr̥śā ca samānāḥ ēva vartantē. Ētē sarvē cētanā-tarka-śaktibhyāṁ susampannāḥ santi. Api ca, sarvē’pi bandhutva-bhāvanayā parasparaṁ vyavaharantu."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1. (in english and sanskrit)

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Re: What appeals to you about the Lotus Sutra?

Post by Queequeg » Wed Jun 26, 2019 12:39 pm

Aemilius wrote:
Wed Jun 26, 2019 9:22 am
tonysharp wrote:
Fri Jun 14, 2019 4:10 pm
tkp67 wrote:
Fri Jun 14, 2019 1:33 pm
I am curious to why are you conflicted?
I probably shouldn't say... :emb: But I'll say it. To put it politely, the text doesn't seem to teach very much other than how great the text itself is. Admittedly, I haven't read all of it. Maybe I wasn't patient enough.
I had same kind of first reaction to it, long ago in 1970's. It is a mysterious scripture, when you have read it through 3 to 7 times, you would have noticed in every reading of it passages "that were not there before!", passages that suddenly contained some wonderfully important precepts and/or information, that you had not seen before. You would have started to doubt that the scripture doesn't stay the same, when after a fifth, seventh or ninth reading you still get this same kind of experience!
There's an essay in a collection of contemporary papers on the text (Buddhist Kaleidoscope - edited by Genes Reeves who appears in the video posted above) that touches on this. Its a little different angle, though, suggesting the structure of the narrative causes the reader to be implicated in the story... Changing with the reader. Like the book in the movie Never Ending Story (my spin). Actually, in the Kumarajiva translation, the heart of the text, the Jigage of the Life Span chapter starts with the character for 'oneself' and ends with 'body' and it has been suggested that this refers to the Lotus Sutra being one's own body.

I've lately been reflecting on how the story told is like a literary representation or description of a phenomena like a mandelbrot graph... Zooming in or zooming out in scale one sees the same patterns - the growth of ordinary being into Buddha - though different details.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta

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