The Lotus Sutra, or Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra in Sanskrit, is probably the most influential Sutras of South East Asian Buddhism. Its name is sometimes translated as ‘The Sutra of the Dharma-Flower of the Wonderful Law’, or ‘The Wonderful Dharma-Flower Sutra’. The earliest form of this Sutra was probably written down in the 1st and 2nd centuries CE, however some suggest it could have been as early as 100BC and is one of the first Sutras to use the term ‘Mahayana’. The Sutra was most influential in China, Japan and Korea, and is the central Sutra for the T’ian t’ai, Tendai and Nichiren Schools.
Many people often wonder why it was so influential, as when first read, it is often confusing with its length, many stories, parables, repetition, inconceivable numbers of Buddhas/Bodhisattvas/Arhants and many other beings, as well as its tendency to exalt itself as being the ‘best’ sutra. However, its truth lies in its inconceivability. The fact that it is so outrageous forces us to read deeper, rather than take things at face value. It is almost an unanswered question in itself, begging the reader to practice, learn and discover. After all, Buddhahood cannot be attained by knowledge alone, or by words on a page.
The text mostly contains stories and parables. These are not to be looked upon as historical fact, but rather as lessons for us to learn. It is important at this stage to note that the Chinese title of the Sutra 法華經“Fahua jing” meaning “Dharma-flower Sutra” is often identified as the Lotus flower – the symbol of Enlightenment, hence the sutras modern name of “Lotus Sutra”. The lotus is born from the crud at the bottom of a murky pond, then over time, reaches up to the surface where it blooms. However, “Fahua” can also be translated as “Dharma-flowering”. This name seems more fitting and the main teaching of the Lotus Sutra is that all the previous teachings given by the Buddha were leading to this point, where he gives his “final” teaching. This symbolism of a Lotus in the process of flowering is also a mirror of our own path, our own lives. We are Dharma Flowers, Buddhas in the making, and we are ‘flowering’ on the path to enlightenment.
One of the Sutras key teachings is Upaya, or expedient means. The Sutra tells us that all the different schools of Buddhism are but a tool used to get us to a specific destination. They are a means to enlightenment, not enlightenment itself. The highest teaching of the Lotus Sutra that is so exalted is that all the different schools are in fact one school – The Ekayana, and that all beings have potential to become Buddhas.
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