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Recitation of the Lotus Sutra (Jpn. Gongyo), Part I

Setting: Buddha, World-honored One, and Declarer of the Truth were three of ten honorary titles associated with Sakyamuni (Sage of the Sakya Clan). In his youth, he grew up Prince Siddhartha Gautama (his royal family name), abdicated his throne in search of a solution to the question of life and death, and eventually attained enlightenment at the age of 30. Some 500 years Before the Common Era (B.C.E.) this seer wandered throughout India teaching an increasingly sophisticated discourse on the scope, nature and essence of existence. After 42 years of teaching, just as his followers thought they had learned all he had to teach, he gathered them once more. Before beginning this sermon, popularly known as the Lotus Sutra, he announced that nothing he had taught them up to this point could result in their achievement of a buddha-state equal to his. While his disciples had reached certain levels of enlightenment (Skt. arhat, prateykabuddha, and bodhisattva), they never hoped to achieve the unsurpassed Perfect Enlightenment that Sakyamuni had achieved. As the Lotus Sutra opened, Sakyamuni is joined by an assembly of some 300,000 sentient beings. The congregation observes that the Buddha is sitting in perfect stillness, as a ray of light emanates from his forehead. The topic he is meditating upon is revealed by the beam. It spotlights various universal scenes of mortal experience — ranging from total misery to absolute bliss and all the variations in between those two bookends. This event is a signal that the Buddha is about to reveal his most profound teaching. As the second chapter of the Lotus Sutra begins, he opens his eyes and begins to speak directly. This act is itself precedent breaking, as Sakyamuni traditionally preached his sutras only in response to some question he received from his audience. Up to now, he had taught according to the capacity of his listeners to understand. His decision to speak directly indicated that the teaching about to be expounded was not dependent on such tactful means. Thus, he begins the Lotus Sutra, Buddhism's climactic and most revolutionary teaching.


English translation:
1999. EverLife Foundation.
Note: brackets [ ] are implied statements to be read as enhanced text.
Parenthesis ( ) are used for identifying proper names in Sanskrit or Japanese, and for definitions or points of clarification that do not read as part of the text.


Sutra Title: Myoho-Renge-Kyo
English: Sutra of the Perfectly Endowed Reality of Everlasting Life
(abbreviated title: The Lotus Sutra)

Chapter 2 Title: Hoben-pon dai ni
English: Tactful Means

Text:
          At that time, the World-honored One, emerging from contemplative meditation, spoke to his wise disciple Sariputra (Jpn. Sharihotsu) as follows:
          “The wisdom possessed by all buddhas is infinitely profound. Its entryway is beyond the capacity of my most learned followers, even those most skilled in realizing Truth.
           “Why is that so? All buddhas are in league with one another as they each had been in service to one hundred, one thousand, ten thousand, one million, even countless numbers of buddhas. Because throughout all time they apply innumerable ways to procure buddha-wisdom, they are known among all realms of existence for devotedly exerting themselves, awakening seekers and teaching their various doctrines — wherever the opportunities to do so present themselves. While these buddhas [continuously] advance their [various] teachings, [they are ever-mindful of] their ultimate goal: to be able to reveal the one [Perfectly Endowed] Reality that is virtually impossible for anyone but a buddha to comprehend.
           “Sariputra [you have heard me teach it all]! From the time when I first became the Buddha, I employed a variety of doctrines and illustrations to convey my views to a wide-ranging audience for the expressed purpose of leading mortal beings to transcend temporal attachments. I have been able to do so because the Declarer of Truth (Skt. Tathagata) is perfectly capable of tactful means and discreet considerations in conveying his perfected wisdom.
           “Sariputra [you have realized thus]! The Declarer of Truth possesses wisdom that is infinitely deep and profoundly wide, his compassion is boundless, his words are virtuous, and his teachings cannot be refuted; with all of his powers, fearless actions, mindful reflections and efforts at liberation he has successfully entered the unparalleled Reality [unknown to anyone who is not a buddha].
           “Sariputra [you surely must agree]! I am now the Buddha because I have completely fulfilled all that is necessary for one to be versed in the singularly boundless and unprecedented Reality [shared by all buddhas].
           “Sariputra, [witness of my compassion]! [Up to now] the Declarer of Truth has taken into account various capacities and distinguishing characteristics [among his disciples] in order to best impart the teachings to them. For the sake of the entire assembly, I have consistently used gentle, warm words to uplift their hearts.
           “Sariputra, [you surely must agree]! The Buddha has completely fulfilled all that has been required of him to date, therefore, the only teaching that remains unrevealed is the infinite, boundless, unprecedented Reality [known only to buddhas].
           “[As such, it would be reasonable for us to] stop here, Sariputra, for there is nothing else left to say. Why? Because the most precious and rare Reality which the Buddha has acquired is too difficult [for mortal minds] to understand. As only buddhas can fathom the incomprehensible Supreme Reality [that gives dimension to all things,] they can only share it among themselves.
           “Such as it is, the True Reality of All Existence [known to all buddhas] is universal and omnipresent and is expressed in all phenomena through the following [10] fundamental attributes. These are:
Scope (form/object/apparent identity)
Nature (mind/subject/transmigrating identity)
Essence (formless/absolute/core identity)
Power (desire/instinct/will/purpose)
Influence (relationship/interaction/role)
Seed Cause (predisposition/tendency/destiny)
Vehicle Cause (stimulus/action/circumstance)
Potential Effect (possibility/goal/direction)
Manifested Effect (actuality/outcome)
and Integral Order (system/evolution/universality).”

 

Proceed to: Recitation of the Lotus Sutra, Part II

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