We’re mid-way through our Lotus Sutra series and are about to make a complete 180° turn in focus. Whereas the previous nine-chapters spotlighted “skillful-means” and the myriad ways the Tathagatas bring sentient beings to awakening, the limelight will now shine on the Lotus-Sutra Text itself as the one and exclusive salvific medium. Chapter 10 wastes no time in asserting right off the bat that this medium is meant to be the salvific tool for all lifeforms:
Thereupon the Bhagavat by addressing Bodhisattva Bhaiṣa jyarāja (Medicine King), through him addressed eighty thousand mahā sattvas, saying: “O Bhaiṣajyarāja! In this assembly do you see innumerable humans and nonhumans such as devas, nāga kings, yakṣas, gandharvas, asuras, garuḍas, kiṃnaras, mahoragas, monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen, those seeking the śrāvaka vehicle, the pratyekabuddha vehicle, and the buddha path? If, in the presence of the Buddha any beings such as these hear a single verse or line of the Lotus Sutra, and thereupon have even one thought of rejoicing in it, I will bestow upon them my prediction that they will attain highest, complete enlightenment.”
What’s made clear in no uncertain-terms is that all sentient beings need do nothing else but reverence the Lotus Sutra text in any way, shape and manner and thereby attain “complete enlightenment.” It goes without saying that this is a radical-shift from what the Sutra was conveying in all the previous chapters, wherein some form of responsible-effort was called-for in order to affect one’s awareness-faculties. This leads me to suspect that the Lotus Sutra “as a whole” was not composed by any one particular community, but rather was finally redacted by a whole series of scribes whose dominate membership favored “the text” as the sole-medium for salvation. Even the Body of the Tathagata was equated with this sola-scriptura.
The significant point to note here is the identification of the sūtra’s physical scrolls with the body of the Tathāgata (Thus Come One), deserving the very same reverence and veneration. Through such veneration of the sūtra text, manifested in the meritorious acts this passage enumerates, the devotee is destined to realize supreme, perfect enlightenment. The key phrase “no need even to lodge śarīras in it” marks the transition from the first part of the Lotus, which includes veneration of the Buddha’s relics as a way to enlightenment, to the second part, which emphasizes instead the importance of upholding the sūtra and expounding it on behalf of others as the cause for enlightenment. In short, it is now the physical text of the Lotus Sūtra that is venerated, on the same level as the relics of the Tathāgata, and considered as no less—or perhaps even more—soteriologically efficacious.
(2010-06-01). Readings of the Lotus Sutra (Columbia Readings of Buddhist Literature) (Kindle Locations 5262-5265). Columbia University Press. Kindle Edition.
“O Bhaiṣajyarāja! Know that those who recite this Lotus Sutra adorn themselves with the adornments of a buddha. This means that they will carry the Tathāgata on their shoulders and pay him homage wherever they go. They should be respected, revered, honored, and praised wholeheartedly with palms pressed together, through offerings of flowers, perfumes, necklaces, scented powders, ointments, burning incense, canopies, flags, banners, clothing, delicious food, music, and the best offerings that people can make. They should have heavenly jewels scattered upon them and offered to them. Why is this? Because these people joyfully expound the Dharma and those who hear it even for an instant will fully attain highest, complete enlightenment.”
One can discern from all this how certain Buddhist-sects like Nichirenism came into prominence, and still to this day exerts great influence on the masses who find quite amenable the simple phrase of Namu myōhō renge kyō (“Devotion to the Sūtra of the Lotus Blossom of the Wonderful Dharma”) as a sole rallying cry for salvation. For many, this particular “expediency” is the final solution, but I’m also obliged as a Lankavatarian to state that one of the Buddha’s greatest axioms, ehipassiko, essentially meaning “come and see”, fully indicates that one will ultimately need to turn to “one’s own” spiritual experience, highlighted with the sundry skillful means that have been acquired through one’s spiritual-journey, to discover and Recollect Absolute Reality AS IT IS—through One’s Own awakening to the Noble Realm of Self-Realization. To my mind, “no one text” has any exclusive rights in the soteriological-marketplace.
Vajra said: “This leads me to suspect that the Lotus Sutra “as a whole” was not composed by any one particular community, but rather was finally redacted by a whole series of scribes whose dominate membership favored “the text” as the sole-medium for salvation. ”
Excellent analysis and I must agree. Having read and studied countless spiritual texts and traditions, there are numerous claims to the supreme status and that has always seemed to me like a touching aspect of human nature, to try to point the way and illuminate the darkness, setting aside all doubts.
But I don’t really see it that way. Technically speaking, at least in Zen, it seems unlikely for there to be too much claim for ANY text to have exclusive privilege of pointing the way, at the same time there is nothing stopping anyone from gaining immeasurable benefit from the study of such texts.
As a personal anectdote, I once hit my head on a lamp in a stooped staircase while wandering the world. My companion at the time said: see, it’s a lesson. What’s the lesson, I asked, thinking there would be some hidden message there. My friend answered: You need to look where you are going.
“But I don’t really see it that way. Technically speaking, at least in Zen, it seems unlikely for there to be too much claim for ANY text to have exclusive privilege of pointing the way, at the same time there is nothing stopping anyone from gaining immeasurable benefit from the study of such texts.”
Am trying to see your point; technically speaking, the Lotus Sutra is not a Zen Text, although it has had a great influence on Zen, perhaps notably for Dogen who frequently derived elements from the Lotus for his own teachings.