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The Lotus Sutra

Joann S. Bakula
March 2011

The last meditation in the yearly cycle is Pisces, the perfect time to ponder on the meaning of completion, endings, summation and last things. In the lifespan cycle, the elder years are, in many cultures, associated with wisdom. In an aging population, such as America's, more attention and accommodation is being given to end of life care and self-choice. Two decades ago palliative care was not being taught in medical schools, and death studies were not a common course in psychology departments. Much knowledge has been gained since then leading to a more humanitarian and realistic attitude toward those in the final stage of life. A significant contribution has come from the Tibetan Buddhists who specialize in service to the dying and dead. Beginning with the first book to become famous in the West, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and continuing in 1992 with the publication of Sogyal Rinpoche's The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, just to mention two, the interfaith and spiritual communities have opened up to a new view of death and dying, a new appreciation for the end time of cycles, and for the stage of completion that comes at the end of every creative act. Less attention has been given to the last teachings of Gautama Buddha himself.

The Lotus Sutra
During the end and completion of his 40 years of teaching, the Buddha preached the Lotus Sutra at Eagle Peak in Rajagriha, India. It is considered to be the summation of his teaching. The Lotus Sutra represents "the highest level of truth, the summation of the Buddha's message, superseding his earlier pronouncements, which had only provisional validity," (Watson, xvii). It could be said that this teaching represents the transition from the historic to the cosmic Buddha. In it he explains that the Buddha, too, is an eternal ever-present Being concerned with the salvation of all living beings, but who "seems at times to pass away into nirvana and at other times to make a new appearance in the world" (Watson, 1993, p. xix).

The Christ, too, may be said to transition from the historic person to the cosmic Christ, and is most often written of in this way throughout the Bailey books. The Christ is written of as historic and eternal, ever present and returning, always redemptive and always showing the path. "Stations of power exist and have been founded through the work of the various World Saviors. These stations of power must be contacted by humanity as time transpires, through their individual re-enactment (on a tiny scale) of the cosmic approaches, or the touches of divinity, dramatically engineered by the cosmic Avatars, the Buddha and the Christ (Esoteric Psychology II, p. 278)

Vast Universes
The world of the Lotus Sutra is of vast cosmic dimensions, the bodhisattvas are pictured as unlimited in number, and boundless in compassion and their dedication to helping all living beings. Outside of our present world countless other worlds and universes are seen and visualized as expanding out in all directions, showing new dimensions to what the word 'universality' comes to mean. Like our own world, this universe and all in it are seen in the same cycle of "formation, continuance, decline and disintegration, a process that takes place over vast kalpas or eons of time," (Watson, p. xiii).

In the microcosm of God immanent, the deepest inner Self, Monad or Spirit is not, then, time-bound but is the living link to the eternal cosmic Christ and Buddha, which are the cultural names of historical and mythical images who lead us through a transcultural, transcendent reality to cosmic Beings quite beyond all names and images.

Even though the numbers of beings in all worlds preached to was unlimited, eighteen of the 18,000 bodhisattvas present there at the time were named, including these. "Their names were the Bodhisattva Manjusri, the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World, the Bodhisattva Great Power Attained... the Bodhisattva Medicine King...the Bodhisattva Full Moon...the Bodhisattva Maitreya...eighty thousand in all" (Kosei, p. 32)! The image of vastness emerges with numbers so great that counting ceases and all merges into the non-duality of cosmic space where galaxies become like grains of sand and wisps of mist. This is also a picture of what is within us, vast and limitless like the Self or Spirit, non-dual as the Monad, all-encompassing in its universality and extending relationship to all in the one Life beyond our capacity to imagine.

The Lotus Sutra was preached to arhats, bodhisattvas, kings, dragons and others but an integral part of the doctrine is the equality of all and their ability to achieve enlightenment. This is the basis of both virtue and the power to serve. "These bodhisattvas... all will have spent a long time planting the roots of virtue....Under countless millions of Budddhas they have practiced in a flawless manner, constantly cultivating wisdom, acquiring transcendental powers, and great understanding. They will be upright in character, without duplicity, firm in intent and thought," (Watson 52). Buddha preached that a bodhisattva should learn the doctrine of Innumerable Meanings, which states that all laws [law and truth are two definitions of dharma] "were originally, will be, and are in themselves void in nature and form" neither great nor small, appearing nor disappearing, neither fixed nor mobile, neither advancing nor retreating, they are nondualistic.

Laws, too, Have a Cycle
After teaching discrimination between the real and the unreal, phenomena and noumena as a path to wisdom, the Buddha preaches in the Threefold Lotus Sutra that "All living beings... discriminate falsely." By false appraisal or judgment they reason that "this is advantageous and this is disadvantageous, it is this [view] or it is that." Thereby "they entertain evil thoughts, make various evil karmas;" resulting in misery. The bodhisattva should penetrate deeply into all laws. All laws or truth have a cycle of 'emerging, settling, changing and vanishing.' Having known these "four aspects from beginning to end" the bodhisattvas should observe "that none of the laws settles down even for a moment, but all emerge and vanish anew every moment" The Innumerable Meanings originate from one law and the one law is formless (Kosei, p. 12).

The unchanging entity of life moves through the various forms of phenomena and has a variety of expressions from stage to stage and from moment to moment. The one-mind moment refers to the unchanging entity of life expressing in multitudinous ways through countless eons of time. "The entire universe is contained in each life at every moment of its existence. Conversely, each one-mind moment permeates the entire universe. The life-moment is a particle of dust holding the elements of all worlds in the universe. It is a drop of water whose existence in no way differs from the vast ocean itself." The life-moment expressing as particle/wave is both the universe and the vast ocean itself. In the vastness of universes of phenomena in all of their complexity, the simplicity of wave and particle takes us home.

Dedicated to Japan
I started writing this a week before the 8.9 earthquake and devastating tsunami hit Japan, and would suggest that we dedicate this meditation to all who have directly suffered, to the Japanese people as a whole, to their land, and to their sacred traditions.

May the ocean of wisdom inherent in your Mind and limitless Compassion in your Heart pour forth to all beings in all of your environments: physical, social, mental, global and spiritual, during this meditation in gratitude to the "Bodhisattva Full Moon," the 11th bodhisattva named, and the Tibetan who gave us our practice of meditation at the full moon.

Joann S. Bakula
March 2011

P.S. I've been trying to take sabbatical from most of my commitments after 7 years of writing commentary on this web site, in order to finish my book, but so far have continued to write them anyway, so please understand if they don't appear for awhile.

Bailey, Alice A. Esoteric Psychology, Vol. II. NY: Lucis, 1942/1970.
Kato, Bunno; Tamura, Yoshiro; Miyasaka, Kojiro, Trans. The Threefold Lotus Sutra. Tokyo: Kosei, 1975.
Watson, Burton, Trans. The Lotus Sutra. NY: Columbia University Press, 1993.