The unbelievable is
not always the improbable.
The inconceivable is
not always the impossible.
– Stonepeace | Books
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: https://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: https://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.
– Stonepeace | Books
The Three Wisdoms
In Buddhism, there is emphasis on the Three Wisdoms (三慧) that lead to realisation of actual and perfect wisdom. This consists of continual Learning, Contemplation and Practice (闻思修) of the Buddhadharma (Buddha’s teachings). As such, beyond mere limited personal reading and biased interpretation of the sutras, which can easily and habitually lead to over-simplified or mistaken readings, it is also crucial and invaluable to have systematic and guided learning with experienced and qualified practitioner-teachers with great ancient masters’ commentaries.
Is The Path To Buddhahood Definitely Long?
The journey to Buddhahood is long only if the Ordinary Dharma door (method) is taken, while it is most swiftly expedited via the Special Dharma Door of Pure Land practice, which is to aspire for birth in a perfect Dharma school created and sustained by Amitabha Buddha (阿弥陀佛; Amituofo) for most skilful guidance on the Bodhisattva path towards Buddhahood without fail. This practice, as stated in the Amitabha Sutra, (and with mention of Amituofo in some 290 sutras), is recommended by all Buddhas out of their universal compassion and wisdom. The Pure Land teachings are joyful in nature as they speak of aspiration for birth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss (极乐世界), where there is ever more joyous non-retrogressible progress towards Buddhahood. His Pure Land can be used as a base for going to and fro at will, for learning from any other Buddha, and even returning to Samsara liberated to guide beings to liberation. Even before birth there, great bliss from good Pure Land practice can be experienced here. For more details on how this works, please join us for this coming free course:
Introduction To Pure Land Teachings: Understanding Amituofo Via The Amitabha Sutra (15th Run)
Other Related Courses
Saha world (Sahā-lokadhātu, 娑婆世界) means this ‘world of patient endurance of suffering’ (忍土, 忍界, 堪忍世界), where beings are also subject to the cycle of birth and death if not learning and practising the Buddha’s teachings towards liberation. (The Sanskrit word ‘Saha’ means earth, but its root, ‘Sah’ means to bear or endure.)
Sutra For Inspiration Towards Buddhahood
The Lotus Sutra is first and foremost for inspiring faith that all beings have Buddha-nature (the potential to become perfect in compassion and wisdom for the sake of one and all), and for inspiring aspiration (Bodhicitta) and devotion to the cause of walking the path of actualising our Buddha-nature – to become Buddhas, by emulating the Bodhisattva path. This is a reason why there might seem to be no one focused means mentioned in it towards Buddhahood, while there is broad mention of the general attitudes we should have for advancement towards Buddhahood. That said, many other voluminous sutras are where the Buddha details the various paths to Buddhahood.
The principles taught in the Lotus Sutra form part of the spine, the central nervous system of the Buddha’s teachings that lead to Buddhahood. The Buddha himself, in his time in ancient India, was the perfect embodiment of the Bodhisattva (Mahayana) spirit, being a perfected Bodhisattva. It is thus perfectly natural that the Buddha would surely propagate the path to Buddhahood enthusiastically, and at some point proclaim the universal accessibility of this goal to urge all towards it. It is in the Lotus Sutra that we see this happening. If the Buddhas do not enthusiastically promote the goal of Buddhahood, the universe could run out of future-Buddhas. However, as many sutras state, the opposite is true – the universe is full of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas pervading space and time, whose glorious company we can join too. This is one of the incredibly inspiring cosmic visions of hope illustrated in the Lotus Sutra.
Earliest Found Sutras
The earliest sutras found written in Gandhari, that predate the Pali Canon, already contain Mahayana (Prajna Paramita) teachings, with many others yet to be found. From Dr Peter Della Santina’s book ‘The Tree Of Enlightenment’ – ‘We know with certainty that the Theravada canon – recorded in Pali, an early Indian vernacular language–was first compiled in the middle of the first century B.C.E.. The earliest Mahayana sutras, such as the Lotus Sutra and the Sutra of the Perfection of Wisdom are usually dated no later than the first century B.C.E. Therefore, the written canons of the Theravada and Mahayana traditions date to roughly the same period.’
Excellent Talk Series On Why The Mahayana Teachings Are Genuine
Basic Points Unifying Theravāda And Mahāyāna
From Bodhicitta To Bodhisattvas To Buddhas
Why The Mahayana Teachings Are Authentic
Did The Buddha Teach The Path To Buddhahood?
Is The Ultimate Goal To Become Nothing?
Whose Buddhism Is The Truest?
(A discovery that shows the earliest found scriptures predate the Pali Canon,
already having Mahayana teachings embedded within.)
Verse For Dedication Of Merits (1)
May I, with these meritorious virtues,
Universally dedicate them to all.
May I, with other sentient beings,
All together accomplish the path to Buddhahood.
Verse For Dedication Of Merits (2)
Four Heavy Sources of Kindness
All Beings (All Realms)
Three Paths (Lower Realms)
回向 Sharing of Merits
Yuan Yi Ci Gong De
Zhuang Yan Fo Jing Tu
Shang Bao Si Zhong En,
Xia Ji San Tu Ku
Ruo You Jian Wen Zhe
Xi Fa Pu Ti Xin
Jin Ci Yi Bao Shen
Tong Sheng Ji Le Guo
回向 Sharing of Merits
May these meritorious virtues
Adorn the Buddha’s Pure Land,
Repay the four weighty roots of kindness above,
And relieve suffering of the three paths below.
If there are those who see or hear this,
May all give rise to Bodhicitta,
And at the end of this retribution body,
Be born in the Land of Ultimate Bliss together.