The unbelievable is
not always the improbable.
The inconceivable is
not always the impossible.
Some Mahayana sutras might seem full of amazing imagery beyond ordinary perception, and even human imagination – simply because they do highlight astounding cosmic truths of mind-expanding proportions beyond our usual sense of space and time. Some textual descriptions might even appear ‘superfluous’, but there are truly no wasted words, with each word deemed absolutely necessary and carrying weight. We have to remember that sutras such as the Lotus Sutra were meticulously recorded, translated and transmitted by highly proficient ancient Dharma masters, who were surely much more wise than foolish, and would not risk immortalising what seems ‘obviously untrue’ in them. While reading between the lines is important for their symbolic meanings, it is just as important to read the lines themselves for their literal messages.
Where analogies and parables are featured, they are always stated clearly as so by the Buddha himself or his speaking disciples, followed by their explanations. Unless there are clearly customary figures of speech, where there are no metaphors stated, the text should be read as it is. If we do not do this, we risk selective jumps to conclusions with arbitrary interpretations and thus misconceptions of the text, mistaking the literal as figurative and the figurative as literal. We have to remember that what is inconceivable to our thoroughly unenlightened minds does not render it impossible – when it is merely impossible for us to imagine it. The unenlightened mind by default cannot as yet conceive of the immeasurably mind-blowing realm of supreme enlightenment. We should not overly, mundanely and distortedly ‘normalise’ what could be supramundane, supernormal yet true.
For example, in the ‘Preface’ chapter of the Lotus Sutra, on Mount Grdhrakuta (耆阇崛山中), which does not have a big summit, were many beings mentioned, which speaks of the universal importance and relevance of its teachings. Listed present were 12,000 Great Arhats, 2,000 Arhats and Arhats-to-be, the Bikhsunis Mahapajapati and Yashodhara with more than 6,000 attendants, 80,000 Bodhisattva-Mahasattvas, Sakra the deva king with 20,000 devas, the 4 Great Heavenly Kings with 10,000 devas, Isvara and Mahasvara with 30,000 devas, the Brahmas Sahampati, Sikhin and Jyotisprabha with 12,000 devas, 8 Naga Kings, 4 Kimnara Kings, 4 Gandharva Kings, 4 Asura Kings, 4 Garuda Kings, and King Ajatasatru, each of these kings with several hundreds of thousands of attendants. With the numbered rounded up, there were 172,037 beings in the audience, not counting the unnumbered.
This is ‘incredible’ yet credible as the sutra was taught near the end of the Buddha’s 45 years of teaching, having gathered all kinds of disciples by then, many of whom were non-humans with supernormal powers, able to self-levitate around where he was to hear him teach, as suggested in many animated depictions of sutra settings. The Buddha himself has great supernormal powers, capable of even defeating haughty major gods and demons with their skilful displays, while dispensing great wisdom. (An intriguing otherworldly incident depicting this can be seen in the Brahma-Nimantanika Sutta: http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2012/03/the-buddhas-victory-over-a-god-demon) The Buddha is also said to have a galactically far-reaching voice, surely able to reach thousands with affinity on the mountain’s peak, paths, slopes and nearby. The Buddha, having completely realised the nature of space-time, is also mentioned to be capable of compressing and expanding the experience of space and time, which have been proven by science to indeed be relative.
In the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, the Buddha teleported his retinue of monastics across the Ganges River with his supernormal powers in an instant: http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2011/06/when-are-miracles-appropriate). He also performed the famous Twin Miracle of levitating while displaying elemental ‘stunts’ to exemplify his truly inconceivable full mastery of mind over matter. These deeds surely make it plausible that he could levitate many, as in the Lotus Sutra’s chapter of ‘Sight Of The Precious Stupa’, where he levitated the entire assembly to facilitate further teaching. As such, we should not humanly and unfairly limit how extraordinary the Buddha is with our ordinary minds, he being supremely masterful of both the normal and supernormal. To expand our minds, what we find hard to believe is what we should see room of possibility for – including attainment of the most wonderful and noble goal of Buddhahood, which the Buddha in the Lotus Sutra inspires us towards!
Not seeing the vastness
of immeasurable possibilities
is how we severely limit
our potential for true greatness.