The Lotus Sutra contains a series of teaching of the Mahayana school unfolding over four hundred years.
Oneness, Three Teachings, parables of the lost son, and the naga jewel, along with the use of skillful means, the second turning of the Dharma Wheel, and the story of the burning house.
Ornamental and repetitious, it builds the case for bodhisattvas emerging from the day-to-day life of practitioners who help others gain enlightenment. The Sutra evolved in China and was explored in Japan as part of Soto Zen practice.
I will use a summary from the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center to address key themes: https://www.mnzencenter.org/uploads/2/9/5/8/29581455/lotus.pdf
Skillful Means: Upaya refers to the ability to use a variety of approaches to convey how to address choices that a student has in following the Middle Way. The “Burning House '' parable depicts a father coming home to his house being on fire and trying to get his children to leave the house. The point being the children are ignorant of the conditions and the father is using any means possible to get them to safety. After many attempts he says there are great things they can have outside the house, beautiful animals and carts. They finally come outside and the father gives them a large cart and great white ox to pull it. The sutra also indicates that rather than three ponies and carts only one was needed as it represents oneness of the Dharma. Another aspect, one must practice as if one’s head’s on fire, time is running-out: https://www.lionsroar.com/practice-like-your-hairs-on-fire/
All Beings Have The Potential to Be Buddhas: A major unfolding in Mahayana teachings is that everyone one is a Buddha-in-waiting. This goes back to the first turning of the Dharma Wheel when Shakyamuni Buddha met the five ascetics after his awakening under the bodhi tree. The fundamental point being beings are asleep to the knowledge of their own awakening. This is a remarkable finding that undergirds the point of equanimity.
The Buddha as a Cosmic Being: “...in this passage the Buddha becomes timeless.” This is also inline with the Trikaya teachings of the three bodies of the Buddha. https://www.learnreligions.com/trikaya-three-bodies-of-buddha-450016 .This passage brings into play the concepts of Buddha-Nature as an endless feature of the cosmos.This gives us the previous lives narrative of Buddhas and strengthen the on-going nature of ancestors and newcomers to Buddhism, as-well-as, the predictions of Buddhas to come–Maitreya https://buddhism-guide.com/maitreya/
Faith and Devotion: It can be done if you hear the teachings and understand your experience as living in Dharma. The Lotus Sutra is an assurance that anyone can become a Buddha even if you are not a monk. Here, I think faith is a manner of wisdom. Or, insight into a deeper understanding of the significance of one’s life meaning relative to the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. https://slife.org/faith-in-buddhism/
There are two other points about the Lotus Sutra. The first is the metaphor of the white lotus as a conduit. It begins life in the mud, grows through the water and blossoms in the air. Each stage is fundamental to the life of the plant. This in turn is seen by different schools of Buddhism that the text itself as having sacred power. Short of that, in Soto Zen it is seen as an assimilation of many teachings of the Buddha.
Please join us at 7:00 PM/ET on Tuesday April 19, 2022, as we explore the Lotus Sutra:
In person at the First Congregational Church of Falmouth, 68 Main Street, or on Zoom:
https://zoom.us/j/7096899032?status=success#success password– FSZS
Sangaku Dan Joslyn
Founder and Guiding Teacher
Falmouth Soto Zen Sangha