The Universality of the Lotus Sutra

Wed., Aug. 20th, 09:00-12:30

The Lotus Sutra Needs Us

Kubo, Tsugunari (JPN)

Traditionally, the Lotus Sutra is seen as being taught by the historical Shakyamuni Buddha. Yet, in the chapter concerning the lifespan of the Buddha, we find that the sutra has always been taught by the Shakyamuni of eternal presence. I believe that this kind of “layered structure” appears throughout the Lotus Sutra.

Shakyamuni, in chapter two of the sutra, says that buddhas, including himself, appear in a world for one particular purpose, and the text infers that a buddha’s intention will be the fuel for the task. That task is to make all living beings be on the road to becoming a buddha. Shakyamuni also says in chapter two that what buddhas are doing is instructing and nurturing bodhisattvas. Yet, in chapter four, the text says that those in the sangha tend to overlook the intention of the Buddha’s work—that bodhisattvas must make the people grasp the road to becoming a buddha.

The stories of the text, in my opinion, indicate a recognition that buddhas, by their own actions alone, cannot create the road to becoming a buddha for every being. In this regard, for example, the stories of the prophecies indicate that the task of the buddhas can be accomplished through the actions of bodhisattvas, i.e., by the actions of all of us as human beings. Thus we are the ones who must accomplish the buddhas’ task. Given this discernment of the sutra, I will endeavor to probe the layered structure of the sutra in light of the question, “What is the Buddha?”—especially from the perspective of human beings.


‘God’ in the Lotus Sūtra: A Question of Function

Largen, Kristin (Gettysburg Seminary, Gettysburg, USA)

The existence and concept of God is a frequent topic for Buddhist/Christian dialogue, with the Triune God of Christianity being compared at various times to the historical Buddha, any number of bodhisattvas, and even with the concept of śunyatā. In this paper, I take a different approach. I propose to examine the concept of God in the Lotus Sūtra, not from the perspective of ontological philosophical arguments for or against God’s existence, but rather from the perspective of a functional understanding of the word “God,” based on Ludwig Wittgenstein’s language philosophy. Wittgenstein famously argued that the meaning of a word comes in its use: that is, how it functions in the context of a specific “language game.” In this vein, I argue that rather than asking the question: “Is Buddhism a theistic religion,” it is both more fruitful and constructive to ask “In the ‘language game’ of The Lotus Sūtra, is there is functioning concept of God?” The answer to that question, I argue, is “Yes”—without making any further claims either identifying or distinguishing this understanding of God from that found in Christianity. Thus, in this paper, I develop a concept of God in the Lotus Sūtra by looking at how the Buddha describes his own activity in divine terms vis-à-vis not only humanity but indeed the whole cosmos. Specifically, I examine the following actions that are typically associated with divinity, showing how, according to the Buddha’s own descriptions of his activities, he functions as “God,” even if he does not use that specific language to describe himself. The first action is creation, and by that I refer not merely to the creation of a world per se, but rather “creation” understood more broadly, including the creation of various realms and the manifestation of bodhisattvas. The second is salvation, and the specific actions of the Buddha that result in enlightenment and an attainment of Buddhahood. Here I pay special attention to chapter 25 and the teachings of Avalokiteśvara. Also included here for special consideration are the stories of those who are promised “salvation” even though their state in life would seem to preclude them from such consideration. The third is revelation, specifically the way in which the Buddha reveals himself in different appearances throughout time and space, embodying [might one even say “incarnating”?] the divine principles of truth and compassion. I conclude the paper with several specific challenges and insights that this understanding of God in the Lotus Sūtra might pose for further Buddhist/Christian dialogue.


Considerations on the So-Called Eternal Buddha

Matsumoto, Shiro (Komazawa University, JPN)

It is generally admitted that the existence of “the eternal Buddha” is taught in the “Life-span” chapter of the Lotus sutra. But, what is the meaning of the adjective “eternal”? Does it mean “beginningless and endless” or simply “endless”? Or, is it possible to consider that the Buddha, although he has an extremely long life hereafter, will finally enter nirvāṇa some day in the future?

Based on the interpretation stated in Vasubandhu’s commentary on the Lotus sutra, “the eternal Buddha” has been generally considered to be a sāṃbhogika-kāya. Therefore many Buddhist thinkers like Chi-tsang (549-623) and Nichiryū (1385-1464) have explained that the life-span of “the eternal Buddha” has its beginning when he was enlightened quite long ago, although some thinkers, influenced by tathāgatagarbha thought, have asserted that the Buddha is not only endless but also beginningless because of his being a dharma-kāya, which, being permanent, has neither beginning nor end.

However, the method to apply the three-bodies (trikāya) theory, which was formed later than the Lotus sutra, to the interpretation of “the eternal Buddha” does not seem to be valid. By carefully reading the original Sanskrit text and its Chinese translations, I hope to elucidate the real meaning of “the eternal Buddha” in the Lotus sutra.


Nichiren’s Interpretation of the Universality of the Lotus Sutra

Sekido, Gyokai (Institute of Nichiren Buddhism, Rissho University, Tokyo)

Based on the doctrines of the Lotus Sutra as translated by Kumārajīva and which he considered to be the most supreme of Śākyamuni Buddha’s teachings, Nichiren (1222-82) believed that Śākyamuni Buddha came to save the people of the Sahā world. Among the many important doctrines of the sutra, Nichiren contended that the concepts of “Attainment of Buddhahood by Those of the Two Vehicles” from chapter two and “Attainment of Enlightenment in the Eternal Past” from chapter sixteen were of particular importance and were pillars supporting the sutra’s universal indications. Prabhūtaratna Buddha’s role during “the sermon in the sky,” which began at chapter 11 and ended in chapter 22, was another great influence on Nichiren’s interpretation. As an additional consideration, he noted the importance of the vow to protect all practitioners of the Lotus Sutra by heavenly divinities in chapters 23-28. And although Amitābha Buddha is not a leading player in the Lotus Sutra, his sudden appearance in chapter 23 and the assurance that female practitioners who hear and practice according to the sutra’s teaching will reach his world provides another clue to Nichiren’s thinking.


Universality in Buddhism

Tola, Fernando (Institute of Buddhist Studies Foundation, Buenos Aires, ARG); Dragonetti, Carmen (Buenos Aires, ARG)

Dr. Shin’ichi Tsuda has explained in his Abstract for the Panel The Universality Of The Lotus Sūtra, of which he is the Convener, in a very scholarly and original way, “an aspect of the Universality of the Lotus Sūtra in its theological character”, and affirms that “Since the time of Gautama Siddhartha, Buddhism has consistently had the concept of God as its foundation, and without reaffirmation of that concept, Buddhism cannot convey the real meaning of its philosophy”. In our paper for this Panel we shall refer to two theses: 1. Many philosophical conceptions and ideas appear in the texts that are presented as produced by Gautama Buddha himself; these ideas show a great originality having being taught many centuries before they were brought to the rest of the world; these ideas are not banal but they have a very important philosophical value, and will constitute the philosophical foundations of Buddhism forever, even if they were taught by Him (and not only by His Abhidharmic disciples who only put to them a systematical form, which is not necessarily what makes philosophy what it is) in a non-systematical way. 2. Among these ideas there is one that marks the difference between Buddhism and its own Hindu tradition and also all the other world religions. In this point let us allow to differ from the thesis of Dr. Tsuda. Even admitting the eternity of the Buddha in the Lotus Sūtra it is difficult or even philosophically contradictory to consider Him as God. Becoming a Buddha is a possibility open to everybody who follows the Path shown by the Master, Gautama Buddha: there have been many Buddhas in the Past, there are many in the Present, and they will be many in the Future. Consequently there will not be one God in Buddhism, but an infinite number of Gods, fact that we are sure Dr. Tsuda would not admit. By the way, the possibility of making the Buddha a God is for us not something else but rather “something less”. The atheistic position of Buddhism from its very beginning contributed, just for instance, to its non-violent expansion in the rest of the world, a fact that other religions cannot attribute to themselves. 


Adhiṣṭhāna of the Tathāgata of the Lotus Sutra and the notion of Gegenwart Gottes of Karl Barth – Their Correspondence and a Difference

Tsuda, Shin’ichi (International College for Advanced Buddhist Studies, Tokyo, JPN)

In the history of Buddhism, the notion of an anthropomorphic God emerges, after all, in the Āyuṣpramāṇa chapter of the Lotus Sutra. For example, we find there the sentence, tatrāpi cātmānam adhiṣṭhahāmi sarvāṃś ca sattvāna tathaiva cāham (verse 4a,b), which is to be translated as follows: “I am, as ever, presenting my existence to this (Sahā world) itself and, at the same time, to each of the living beings therein, in the same manner, that is, with my whole existence respectively.” This sentence, showing impressive correspondence with the notion of Gegenwart Gottes of Karl Barth, which comprises three phases: eigentlich (intrinsic), besonders (exceptional) and allgemein (universal), thereby shows us an aspect of the universality of the Lotus Sutra as a religio-philosophical text. What, then, is the difference between these two?


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