Saturday, June 06, 2009

Lotus Sutra Chapter 12: Exertion and Chapter 13: Peaceful Life

Text is here for Chapter 12.

Even when things turn bad the "in monks" would preach from the Lotus Sutra.

In case you were wondering. Here's a few of stanzas worth noting (emphasis mine):

4. At that dreadful last epoch men will be malign, crooked, wicked, dull, conceited, fancying to have come to the limit when they have not.

5. 'We do not care but to live in the wilderness and wear a patched cloth; we lead a frugal life;' so will they speak to the ignorant.

6. And persons greedily attached to enjoyments will preach the law to laymen and be honoured as if they possessed the six transcendent qualities.

7. Cruel-minded and wicked men, only occupied with household cares, will enter our retreat in the forest and become our calumniators.

8. The Tîrthikas, themselves bent on profit and honour, will say of us that we are so, and-shame on such monks!-they will preach their own fictions.

9. Prompted by greed of profit and honour they will compose Sûtras of their own invention and then, in the midst of the assembly, accuse us of plagiarism.

10. To kings, princes, king's peers, as well as to Brahmans and commoners, and to monks of other confessions,

11. They will speak evil of us and propagate the Tîrtha-doctrine. We will endure all that out of reverence for the great Seers.

12. And those fools who will not listen to us, shall (sooner or later) become enlightened, and therefore will we forbear to the last.

13. In that dreadful, most terrible period of frightful general revolution will many fiendish monks stand up as our revilers.

14. Out of respect for the Chief of the world we will bear it, however difficult it be; girded with the girdle of forbearance will I proclaim this Sûtra.

This is the kind of religious text that raises a red flag, or should, although (or because?) this sutra does contain its own "escape clause" i.e., the doctrine of skillful means, to allow for such "new texts" to be added to a scriptural canon (provided it does indeed help foster transcendence over suffering and delusion).

Knowing a bit of the history of this sutra can make one conclude, as I've said earlier, that there was likely a great deal of skepticism expected toward this sutra when it was to have been "rolled out," and this text was evidently thought of as a way to inoculate the audience from skepticism. The problem though was that twenty centuries down the pike, such text fuels greater skepticism, provided, of course, you don't read the text as coming from the place in all beings that can transcend suffering, greed, and ignorance. As for me, thankfully there's enough "meat" in this sutra to be, uh, skillfully applied, and I can live with what reads like unnecessary theatrics which can't but be read in light of being jaded by watching The Life of Brian. "Skillful means" is an important and effective moral doctrine which although there are allusions to it elsewhere in the Buddhist writings, aren't really as summed up here.

Chapter 13, deals with how, among other things, how a Bodhisattva Mahâsattva comports himself. It mentions vendors of pork, jugglers, and transgendered people as classes that Bodhisattva Mahâsattvas should avoid, except insofar as one preaches the Lotus Sutra.

However, there is a bit more to this:

Further, Mañgusrî, a Bodhisattva Mahâsattva looks upon all laws (and things) as void; he -sees them duly established, remaining unaltered, as they are in reality, not liable to be disturbed, not to be moved backward, unchangeable, existing in the highest sense of the word (or in an absolute sense), having the nature of space, escaping explanation and expression by means of common speech, not born, composed and simple, aggregated and isolated, not expressible in words, independently established, manifesting themselves owing to a perversion of perception. In this way then, Mañgusrî, the Bodhisattva Mahâsattva constantly views all laws, and if he abides in this course, he remains in his own sphere. This, Mañgusrî, is the second proper sphere of a Bodhisattva Mahâsattva.

The law's ineffable. Hmmm...and then again...

Again, Mañgusrî, the Bodhisattva Mahâsattva who lives after the extinction of the Tathâgata at the end of time when the true law is in decay, the Bodhisattva Mahasattva who keeps this Sûtra is not envious, not false, not deceitful; he does not speak disparagingly of other adherents of the vehicle of Bodhisattvas, nor defame, nor humble them. He does not bring forward the shortcomings of other monks, nuns, male and female lay devotees, neither of the adherents of the vehicle of disciples nor of those of the vehicle of Pratyekabuddhas. He does not say: You young men of good family, you are far off from supreme, perfect enlightenment; you give proof of not having arrived at it; you are too fickle in your doings and not capable of acquiring true knowledge. He does not in this way bring forward the shortcomings of any adherent of the vehicle of the Bodhisattvas.

The text starts to fold in on itself, doesn't it?

Seriously, to a great degree Chapters 12 & 13 stand in contrast to each other. One is trying to shill the legitimacy of the Lotus Sutra, but the other (more sensibly, I'd submit), after allowing for some class-separation with respect to religious, economic or sexual minorities (yeah, it's the 21st century) says that they should be disparaging of other Mahayana Buddhists.

And if you're thinking I (yes, layman) am just making this up, consider this:

Further, Mañgusrî, the Bodhisattva Mahâsattva, living at the time of destruction of the true law after the extinction of the Tathâgata, who is desirous of keeping this Dharmaparyâya, should live as far as possible away from laymen and friars, and lead a life of charity. He must feel affection for all beings who are striving for enlightenment and therefore make this reflection: To be sure, they are greatly perverted in mind, those beings who do not hear, nor perceive, nor understand the skilfulness and the mystery of the Tathâgata, who do not inquire for it, nor believe in it, nor even are willing to believe in it. Of course, these beings do not penetrate, nor understand this Dharmaparyâya. Nevertheless will I, who have attained this supreme, perfect knowledge, powerfully bend to it the mind of every one, whatever may be the position he occupies, and bring about that he accepts, understands, and arrives at full ripeness.

I love when things are considered self-referentially, and I do not think that's an anachronism. I think a self-referential reading was intended for this sutra.

Your mileage might vary.

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