The Sutra

 

Literally, Sutra (C. Ching, J. Kyo) means thread, or line, or the warp and woof of a fabric. But it also means the 'lines' of the Buddha in the sense of quoting the actual word or words of the Buddha. As such, it also may translated as scripture.

In The Hidden Meaning of the Lotus Sutra (C: Fa-Hua Hsuan-I, J: Hokke Gengi) other dimensions of meaning are given, including:
1. A thread in the sense of a continuous line or lineage
2. A gushing fountain, as in a font of teachings, practices, meanings, or a font of chanted words
3. The source or origin of the Dharma - By this was meant the source of the teachings, the source of the practice & the source of meaning or significance.

We will now look at the meaning of the Sutra in terms of it being the The Body (Life) of the Buddha, the Word of the Buddha, and the Pure Land.

The Sutra as the Buddha's Body and Life:

Sakyamuni discouraged his followers from the use of His remains and relics1 (S. Sarira) as objects of worship. In The Mahaparinirvana Sutra he admonished His disciples to "Depend on the Dharma, not on a person". Nevertheless, when the First Council of the Sangha was held during the first rainy season after the Buddha's entry into Nirvana, it was decided to divide up His ashes and give them to the laity as objects of worship. These remains and relics were put in great towers2 (S. Stupas), which were venerated and worshipped by the masses. It was understood that the Practice of the Dharma was too difficult for the common people, and it was decided that they needed a more concrete and literal representation of enlightenment. The Practice of Faith3 was the easier alternative that could be cultivated by ordinary people. By increasing their faith and other good spiritual capacities4, the common people could gradually be guided toward the Practice of the Dharma.

Broadly speaking, the Spiritual Body of the Buddha5 can be considered as that which was 'left in the world' by the Buddha after his extinction, that part of the Buddha that lived on after his physical death. More specifically, it is the Sutra, the words of the Buddha that live on and teach those that listen with faith. The Lotus Sutra was considered by Chih-I to be its quintessential and most perfect expression.

This idea of that which 'left in the world' is explained in the 16th Chapter of The Lotus Sutra (Measuring the Life of The One That Has Come). It is the Innate Threefold Body of the Eternal Buddha, The One That Has Come (S. Tathagata).

The Sutra as the Living Word of the Buddha:

Therefore the Sutra is literally the very living word of the Buddha. The Sutra reveals the Buddha's eternal life and its Spiritual Body (S. Dharmakaya) that transcends the bounds of time and space. In practicing the Sutra (reading, reciting, worshipping, spreading the word, etc) one brings it to life and attains its wisdom and virtues (its Body of Reward, S. Sambhogakaya) and is spiritually transformed into the Buddha in this world teaching the Dharma to enlighten others (the Body of Manifestation and Response, S. Nirmanakaya). Therefore, by practicing the Sutra one brings this innate threefold body of The One That Has Come (S. Tathagata)6 to life. When one does not practice the Sutra, it seems to go away and enter into Nirvana, but this is only the means of making one seek it out again. This is the medicine that The One That Has Come (S. Tathagata C. Ju-Lai, J. Nyorai) left in this world as described in the 16th Chapter of The Lotus Sutra

This real threefold body of the Buddha is not a mere physical entity but rather it is a spiritual entity which is embodied in the Sutra it is not just something made of paper and ink or mere words but it is a living spiritual document that is reaffirmed, understood, and brought alive by reading, reciting, copying, understanding, teaching, and practicing it with the power of one's resolve and one's thoughts, words and deeds7. In other words, it is only truly read, recited, copied, understood and taught with one's very life.

The Sutra as the Pure Land:

The Sutra is the Pure Land. The Buddha will be found living there forever, teaching the Dharma. The Pure Land is the spiritual realm where the Buddha is ever teaching the Dharma to those that accept and embrace it with faith - the Sangha. The Pure Land is the therefore the timeless living reality of the Three Treasures. Other names for it include the 'Treasury of the Secret Mystery' and the 'Three Great Secret Dharmas'.

The Pure Land is the place where one cultivates the Practice of Faith, which is where the Dharma is given (by the Buddha) and accepted (by the Sangha). It is where the seed of enlightenment is ever being sown, and where the inspiration of the enlightened (S. Bodhi) mind is ever being renewed. It is the sanctuary and it is the sphere of spiritual enlightenment (S. Bodhimandala).

 

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Footnotes:

1. Our word for religion comes from the same origin as our word 'relic'.

2. Each of eight cities granted a portion of the relics made a stupa for their worship. They were in Kapilavastu, Bodhgaya, Mrigadava, Jetavananatha, Pindadarama, Vaisali, Rajagriha, Kanyakubja, and Kushinagara

3. The Practice of Faith: The practice deemed suitable and accessible to those of lesser spiritual capacity but being more inclusive and having broader acceptance. Also see a Comparison between the Practices of Faith & Dharma.

4. Faith and Other Good Spiritual Capacities: (Diligence, Presence of Mind (Remembrance), Mental Concentration and Spiritual Insight)

5. The Spiritual Body of the Buddha: (S. Dharmakaya) Body of the Dharma, the embodiment of the Buddha's enlightened life that transcends time and space.

6. Innate Threefold Body of the One That Has Come (S. Tathagata, C. Ju-Lai, J. Nyorai): The three bodies (lives) are one, and the one is three. It is the true nature of the eternal embodiment of enlightenment.

7. The power of one's resolve and one's thoughts, words and deeds: The fours means of spiritual contentment as describend in the 14th Chapter of The Lotus Sutra (On Peace and Contentment). The power of one's vows (one's spiritual will) and the three creators of spiritual destiny: the body, the mouth and the thinking mind.

 

Copyright © Peter Johnson 2001 - All rights reserved

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  Since July 9, 2001


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