Lotus Sūtra | Practice | 4

Lotus Sūtra | Practice
Lotus Sūtra | Practice

1. Lotus Sūtra | Practice | 4

The Lotus Sūtra frequently advocates concrete practices, which are often related to the Sūtra itself:

They are often given as sets of 4-6 practices, but include receiving and embracing the Sūtra, hearing it, reading and reciting it, remembering it correctly, copying it,

explaining it, understanding its meaning, pondering it, proclaiming it, practicing as it teaches, honouring it, protecting it, making offerings to it, preaching it and teaching it to others, and leading others to do any of these things.

The Sūtra also promotes the building of Stūpas wherever the Lotus Sūtra is being preached.

The Lotus Sūtra also mentions the 6 Pāramitās and the Eightfold Path.

Other passages from the Sūtra have been seen as promoting certain ways of living:

For example the story of Never Disrespectful Bodhisattva in chapter 20 has been seen by some as teaching that we should see all beings as potential Buddhas and treat them accordingly.

Similarly, other parts of the Sūtra have been interpreted as exhortations to share the Dharma of the Lotus with other people.

2. In East Asia

The Sūtra became an extremely important text for religious practice in East Asian Buddhism, especially through ritualized devotional practice.  

A particularly important set of practices are the 5 practices of the preacher of the dharma (found in Chapter 19), which are preserving (or upholding), reading, reciting, explaining, and copying the sūtra.

Upholding the Sūtra, does not connote a specific regimen of practice, but functions as a generic designation for Lotus Sūtra devotion in all its guises, above all devotion that is focused and sustained.

Thus, it is a general term for enthusiastic embrace of the Sūtra.

The term derived from the Sanskrit root dhṛ, related to dhāraṇī and could refer to the memorization and retention of the teaching as well as to the more abstract apprehension of the Dharma in meditative states of samādhi.

It could also refer to the storing, enshrining and safekeeping of the physical copies of the Sūtra.

It was said that these practices were very meritorious and could lead to miracles:

Stories dealing with Lotus Sūtra miracles, such as Huixiang's Accounts of the Propagation of the Lotus Sūtra (c. 7th century) became a popular genre in China and Japan.

The popularity of these practices can be seen from the fact that a thousand copies of the text were sealed in the Dunhuang caves in the 11th century.

The Lotus Sūtra was also one of the most widely memorized Buddhist texts, a practice which became a requirement for Buddhist monastic ordination at various points throughout Chinese history.

These practices were often sponsored by Asian states as a way to protect the nation but they were also carried out by people from all social classes.

Ritualized recitation, copying of the text and lectures explaining the Lotus Sūtra were performed at temples, shrines, and private residences.

It was believed that these practices generated many benefits, from spiritual benefits like visions of Buddhas, rebirth in a Pure Land, awakening, and helping deceased relatives, to worldly benefits like peace, healing and protection from harm.

In a similar fashion, the creation of different forms of visual, plastic, calligraphic, performance arts based on the Lotus Sūtra also came to be seen as a form of spiritual practice and a Skilful Means.

The production of these works, which included Lotus Sūtra manuscripts themselves, could become highly ritualized processes.

Likewise, the telling of miracle stories and composition of literature based on the Lotus Sūtra was also seen as another way to practice its teachings.

In China, the practice extracted from chapter 20 of seeing all beings as Buddhas or Universal Veneration was adopted as the main practice of Xinxing (540–594) Three Stages Movement.

The practice of revering Buddha Nature is oriented in 2 directions: toward ourselves, and toward others:

Revering our own Buddha Nature means that we look directly at Buddha Nature within ourselves through self-reflection to achieve an awareness of our oneness with the Eternal Buddha.

Revering the Buddha Nature of others means that we view all people with reverence, seeing them as manifestations of the Buddha.

The practice of revering Buddha Nature means always looking beyond the superficial characteristics of ourselves and others:

This enables us to help ourselves and other people manifest our inherent Buddha Nature while we discover the workings of Life itself within all things.

Meanwhile, the self-immolation of Bodhisattva Medicine King inspired a controversial tradition of cremating parts of one's body as a kind of devotion.

Chapter 25 has also been very influential on Asian Guanyin devotional tradition.

The chanting of the Lotus was and remains widely practiced in Chinese Buddhism.

Daily recitation of excerpts from the Lotus Sūtra is one of the most essential religious practices in some Buddhist communities:

Practitioner recite these passages aloud each morning and evening before the Buddhist altars in our homes or at Dharma centres.

Sūtra recitation is considered a form of meditation—a practice that played an important role in Śākyamuni Buddha’s life and teachings:

Reciting the Sūtra with reverence before the Buddha also brings us deep insight into ourselves that enables us to awaken to our oneness with the Buddha who sustains all.

Sūtra recitation is a practice of revering ourselves by making us aware that Buddha Nature is the true essence of our life.

Through this practice people can express a sense of devotion and gratitude to the 3 Jewells: the Buddha, Dharma, and Saṅgha:

Reciting the Sūtra before the Buddha, we express sincere gratitude first to the one who taught and explained the right way for human beings to live, as well as to the Dharma, or his teachings.

We also express gratitude to fellow members of our Saṅgha, to our ancestors, who provided us the opportunity to be born in this world, as well as to all living beings, whether related or unrelated to us.

It is often accompanied by the wooden fish instrument and preceded by various ritual acts, invocations, offerings and visualizations.

The works of the Tiantai master Zhiyi (538–597 CE) include various Lotus Sūtra based practices like the Lotus samādhi and the Rite of Repentance for the Lotus Samādhi.

Zhiyi was also said to have memorized the entire 3-fold Lotus Sūtra.

Zongxiao (1151–1214) mentions a practice which consisted in performing 1 or 3 prostrations for every character of the Sūtra.

In the Japanese Tendai school, the Lotus Sūtra is an important part of Taimitsu (Tendai esotericism) where it is part of certain rituals, such as the Lotus rite (Hokke ho), performed to eradicate sin, build merit, and realize awakening.

The maṇḍala used in this ritual depicts the 2 Buddhas - Śākyamuni and Many Jewels seated together in its central court, as they appeared in the Jewelled Stūpa of the Lotus Sūtra.

In Nichiren Buddhism, the central practice is the recitation of the Title of the Lotus Sūtra, called the Daimoku:

This formula is Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō.

Nichiren Buddhists believe that this phrase contains the meaning of the entire Sūtra and contains and supersedes all other Buddhist practices (which are seen as provisional and no longer effective).

By chanting this phrase with faith, one is said to be able to achieve Buddhahood.

Nichiren Buddhists often chant this phrase while facing a great maṇḍala (daimandara), or revered object of worship (Gohonzon), a practice that was promoted by Nichiren himself.

Nichiren (1222-1282) believed that chanting while contemplating the Gohonzon allowed to enter the maṇḍala of the Lotus assembly.

Establishing peace and harmony in our world, a state of things that Buddhism calls a “Land of Eternally Tranquil Light” in the Lotus Sūtra, can be accomplished by sharing the teachings and helping to bring the spiritual liberation to many people. This is the wish of the Buddha, and at the same time, also the fundamental wish of all human beings.