James Rockwell Sacred Texts, paper#4 Jenkins


Buddhas Here, Buddhas There, Buddhas Everywhere! The Lotus Sutra is one of the most popular Mahayana texts ever written. It is uncertain when this sutra was composed. However, a Chinese translation of the text was in existence by 255 C.E..1 This places the Lotus Sutra amongst the earliest distinctively Mahayana works. 2 The Lotus Sutra, above all else, is a text that addresses its own place within the early Indian Buddhist world. Its incredibly expansive view of reality was a significant departure from both the abhidharmic and hinayana thinkers that dominated ancient Buddhism.3 The Lotus Sutra demanded a new, distinctive trajectory for Buddhists thinking. In this way, it can be seen as a confrontational text. The sutra reads like a tract produced by a revolutionary faction that was bent on overthrowing the conventions of its day. It simultaneously confronts and subjugates its doctrinal opposition while presenting a dramatic vision for a new reality; a reality where the Lotus Sutra stands alone as the pinnacle of Buddhist thought. A consistent theme that highlights the combative posture assumed within the Lotus Sutra is the degradation of the lesser vehicles of Buddhist practice.4 According to the text, these lesser vehicles , specifically the Sravaka and

Burton Watson, trans., The Lotus Sutra. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993, Intro. 2 John Powers, Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2007, 102. 3 Hinayana is a pejorative term often used by Mahayanists to assert their superiority over the elder Buddhist schools (of which there were eighteen). See Powers, 109-112. 4 Watson, The Lotus Sutra, 136.


6 5 . 2001. The Story of Buddhism. 1989. an important component of the Lotus Sutra. The abhidharma is one component of what is known as the Buddhist tripitaka (three baskets).6 The abhidharma is a highly analytical. Mahayanists developed emptiness into a central tenet of their view and often used it to attack abhidharmic thinkers. with oppositional flare. London: Routledge. The other two components that form the tripitaka are sutra and vinaya. 7 Donald S. The concept appears in pre-Mahayana Buddhist texts. Where abhidharmic thinkers sought a profoundly minute essence of reality. scholarly elaboration on the essential nature of Buddhist reality. Chapter 3. 9 Williams. However. the Lotus Sutra. The Lotus Sutra.5 The Lotus Sutra presents its vision of Buddhism (the Bodhisattvayana) as the path that subsumes all the others. The sutra suggests that the ultimate. 8 Paul Williams.Pratyakebuddha views of enlightenment. Relegating oppositional views to an inferior status is a key technique used numerous times in the sutra to assert the legitimacy of its claims. Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. Lopez. Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. leading to supreme enlightenment.7 The Lotus Sutra (along with other early Mahayana sutras) often displayed an animosity toward abhidharmic thinking. 15. 14. 106. rather then being found in Watson. fashioned a reality marked by a disorienting vastness of view. refuted abhidharmic assertions that there was an ultimate reality comprised of inherently existent dharmas. were introduced by Buddha as expedient means to keep inferior practitioners moving along the dharmic path until they were ready to receive the true Buddhist teachings on enlightenment.8 The doctrine of emptiness. San Francisco: Harper. 9 It is important to note that emptiness was not a Mahayana invention.

It aimed to overthrow and absorb the previous incarnations of Buddhism into its stream of enlightenment and. is the natural outcome of countless. See introduction in Essential Tibetan Buddhism. These vivid arrays of kaleidoscope-like Buddhaverses swirling around. was a radical re-envisioning of a Buddhist conception of reality. waiting to be discovered. all enriched with staggering complexity. the sutra proposed a kind of spiritual populism. apparently. to not stop absorbing until every last being entered. This intimates a revolutionary intent on the part of the sutra. 10 . Robert Thurman. not only possible. 1997). only tethered to other forms of Buddhism by the sutra framework that it applied to espouse its vision. (Edison: Castle Books. but was the ultimate destination of all beings (a hint of the Buddha Nature philosophies that would later develop). The Lotus Sutra asserted that widespread Buddhahood was. radically fluid Buddhaverses.some intrinsically existent particles.10 An endless stream of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas created these Buddhaverses as a way to push sentient beings towards an inevitable date with enlightenment. These claims offer the starkest contrast between the Lotus Sutra and its predecessors. Buddhaverses is a term used by dGulgs thinker. appearing for the benefit of sentient beings. The Lotus Sutra used that tether to assert its superiority over other Buddhist thinkers. The Lotus Sutra could easily be seen as a whole new religious movement. a dissemination of Buddhahood. Rather then venerating one Buddha.


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