Friday, March 23, 2012

The Lotus Sutra is King

"The Lotus sutra is king of all Mahayana sutras."  --Cultivating the Mind of Love by Thich Nhat Hanh

In every spiritual tradition, it seems, people become fixed in their ways. Their thoughts are habitual. "They attach to form and are bit by the snake of misunderstanding," writes Buddhist master, Thich Nhat Hanh. In every age, there is need for renewal, to keep traditions accessible, to overcome misapprehension, and to introduce practices which reflect positively upon the age. The dawn of Mahayana was just that. The traditions which preceded it were non-native to early practitioners of Buddhism in China and the north. The mind of Mahayana was intended to help one gain a closer understanding of the true practice. For example, ideas of impermanence, nirvana and inter-being were re-formed for the earliest Mahayana practitioners.

Previously, many had taught that the practice was to exit this world of suffering. Shravakas, therefore had practiced primarily for the self and not for the compassion and good of the world. In the new view, this was not the heart of the Buddha's teaching. Rather it was Vimalakirti sutra which launched a challenge to this former thinking. Shariputra, disciple of the Buddha, was the focus; humbled by the new way, the Mahayana ushered in a time when the average person could be enlightened. No longer was enlightenment the province of priests, monks or nuns alone. 

Yet it is in the Lotus sutra that we learn Shariputra remains the Buddha's most beloved disciple; he learns that the Buddha has offered the teaching at that time because it was necessary. Now we learn that everyone has the possibility to become a fully enlightened buddha, and that the Buddha is present everywhere, forever. Additionally we learn that the three vehicles are in fact one, ekayana. So no matter what tradition you have or do follow, all are disciples of the everlasting Buddha. "Thanks to the Lotus sutra, peace and reconciliation among practitioners has become possible," writes Hanh.

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