Buddhism and the Lotus Sutra

     Since there have been many Buddhist protesters of the death penalty in California in recent years, there must be something positive about that religion --
     Buddhism, per se, was founded about 500 BC in India by a man called Siddhartha Gautama, or Gautama Buddha. The proper name "Buddha" usually applies to him; however, Buddhism holds that there have been many "buddhas", before and after Siddhartha's time -- a buddha being someone who has achieved "enlightenment" or "nirvana", escaping a cycle of reincarnation and suffering.
     Sutra means "Literally, 'thread' or 'string.' The scriptures containing the teachings of the Buddha .... The Lotus Sutra consists of a series of sermons delivered by the Buddha toward the end of his forty-year teaching ministry before a great multitude of disciples and other beings ranging from gods to demons" 1 ; its full name is "Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law"; it is preceded by "Sutra of Innumerable Meanings", and followed by "Sutra of Meditation on the Bodhisattva Universal Virtue". "'Bodhisattva' comes from 'Bodhi', buddhahood, and 'sattva', living being .... the noblest form of Buddhist practice is the way of the bodhisattva, one who devotes himself to attaining enlightenment not only for himself but for all sentient beings." 1
     Theravada Buddhism dates from Gautama Buddha's time; also called "Southern Buddhism", it has had a dominant influence in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, and Laos. "Theravada" means "Doctrine of the Elders".
     Mahayana Buddhism dates from the first century AD; the term "Mahayana" dates from the 500s AD, and means "Great Vehicle" (Mahayanists sometimes referred to other schools of Buddhism as "Hinayana", meaning "Lesser" or "Inferior Vehicle"). The Lotus Sutra is the dominant "scripture" of Mahayana Buddhism.
     Mahayana is the dominant form of Buddhism in Tibet, Mongolia, China, and Japan; and, it has dominated the forms of Buddhism which have come to the West, including:
     Zen Buddhism -- "Zen" is a Japanese transliteration of the Chinese word "Chan", an abbreviation of "chan-na", a transliteration of the Samskrit word "dhyana", meaning meditation.
     "It is said that Zen originated with the Buddha's disciple Kashyapa, also known as Mahakashyapa ("Great Kashyapa"). During one of his sermons, the Buddha answered a question by merely holding up a flower and smiling. Of all in attendance, only Kashyapa understood -- he immediately obtained complete enlightenment. This story provides the basis for the Zen belief that profound truth can be transmitted from "mind to mind," without the mediation of language." 2
     Nichiren Buddhism was founded in Japan by the monk Nichiren (1222-82). "The ritual object of reverence in Nichiren temples has always been a scroll with the name of the sutra in the center and pithy phrases and names of celestial bodhisattvas around it. The core religious practice for Nichiren is to face this scroll and repeatedly recite the phrase namu myoho renge kyo, or 'Homage to the Wondrous Sutra of the Lotus'" 2 (also translated, "Salutation to the Lotus Sutra") 3.
     Tibetan Book of the Dead "is known in Tibetan as the Bardo Thol Dro, rendered more accurately as 'Liberation through Hearing in the Bardo'". The "Bardo" is supposed to be a 49-day period during which the deceased soul encounters images, and has the possibility of achieving Nirvana; so, the recitation of the Bardo Thol Dro continues, to an image of the dead (after the corpse has been disposed of) during this period. 2
     The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso (1935-), is probably the best-known Buddhist in the world -- was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. 2


     1 Threefold Lotus Sutra, Kosei Publishing Co., Tokyo, 1975
     2 Buddhism -- the Illustrated Guide, Oxford University Press, 2001
     3 Britannica Online, article Buddhism


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