The Lotus Sutra (Saddharmapundarika Sutra)

The Power of Transformation

Venerable Guo Kai, convener of the DDM Propagation Development Department of DDM Headquarters in Taiwan, provided a Dharma talk titled “The Lotus Sutra: The Power of Transformation” for two consecutive weekends in February at DDM LA Chapter. She gave the Dharma talk in hopes of setting a righteous path for practitioners to penetrate the meaning of the Lotus Sutra, from purification to building a pure land on Earth and to encourage practitioners to inspire one another toward ultimate liberation.

Venerable Guo Kai emphasized that her Dharma talk were meant to be preparatory for the Suddharmapundarika Samandhi Repentance Rites, which make up the core practices of the Lotus Sutra Method. Thus, a four-day repentance service was included in the workshop, starting with the process of repentance, sutra chanting and meditation and gradually moving on to a purification process that moved from concentration to clarity and finally to awareness. According to Venerable Guo Kai, it is quite necessary for modern practitioners to cleanse the hindrance of self-centeredness so that they can be better prepared to penetrate the Dharma. The process of learning the Dharma should be founded with correct views and concepts as we implement the teachings in our daily lives through moment-to-moment practice. Venerable Guo Kai encouraged practitioners to memorize important verses within the Lotus Sutra and to use them as guidelines. She also indicated that, before we move on to memorization and implementation, it is crucial to initiate our Bodhicitta (Bodhi Minds) with Bodhi vows so that we can prompt Bodhi acts.

The Buddha concluded that his teaching has always been for only one path and one goal: a single vehicle to Buddhahood, achieving fundamental teaching (benmen) through trace teaching (jimen).

The Lotus Sutra is called the “king of vaipulya sutras” in some Sanskrit manuscripts. It is well-known for its embellished verses that provide encompassing and leveled guidance for all practitioners. It contains a strong message that our mind, the Buddha and sentient beings are identical in essence, and therefore we should be confident that we are all inherently have Buddha nature and that we can achieve complete enlightenment if we practice the Dharma diligently. Throughout his 49 years of preaching, the Buddha primarily used skillful means (trace teaching) to teach his disciples. The three vehicles of Sravaka, Pratyekabuddha and Bodhisattva all share the ultimate goal of the Buddhahood (fundamental teaching), just like rivers and streams merge jointly in oceans.

The Buddha is an exemplary character. As his followers, we are walking the path of self-purification as we actively monitor our inadequacies. Venerable Guo Kai pointed out as practitioners, we need to have a sense that we are ailing and imperfect and that the Dharma is like our medicine. However, if we merely regard ourselves as ailing beings, we will always seek outward for healing. The Lotus Sutra tells us even if we are unwell we have the potential to become physicians because inherently we all have a Buddha nature. If we cultivate with a physician's mentality, we will remain positive and we can discipline ourselves so that we can benefit patients in the future. Before the Buddha entered the Parinirvana, he concluded his fundamental teachings to all three vehicles, revealing that all beings are future Buddhas.

It is indispensible for sentient beings to go through the trace teaching (the Dharma) to reveal the core chamber of our Buddha nature (fundamental teaching.) This complete enlightenment can only be completed if we apply trace and fundamental teaching simultaneously.

Learning to gratify adversities

In the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha authenticated his opponent, Devadatta, to be a future Buddha, posing affinity in spite of Devadatta’s chaotically wicked plots against him. Why is that? The Buddha finally disclosed that in the past Devadatta was his mentor who vowed to act as his adversity in order to constantly prompt the Buddha to achieve. One cannot accelerate well within their comfort zone, but adversities can boost one towards evolution. Venerable Guo Kai used the narrative of the movie “The Life of Pi” as a comparison: although the tiger always tries to devour Pi, Pi still strives to rescue the tiger from drowning amidst the sea because the hungry tiger is also the enthusiasm that keeps Pi vigilant. Thus, a wise individual seizes adversities as their driving force, whereas an ignorant individual will only see adversities as hindrances. Your mindset determines it all. 

Skillful means lead to supremacy and the mindset concludes it all

If all beings inherently have Buddha nature, why did the Buddha reach enlightenment while we are still trapped in aggravation? Venerable Guo Kai explained that even though we all have the same Buddha nature, it takes skills to reveal it. We must use the doctrines to awaken to the principles. No matter what methods you use, your mindset will ultimately decide whether you can accomplish attributive human and deity realms or nirvana.

The issue is that commoners are often trapped within the superficial understanding of Dharma without actually being able to enter the core true Buddha nature. For example, as DDM volunteers we should commit ourselves to doing whatever is necessary without the notions of accumulating merits for liberation. We complete assignments simply because we are activating our own Buddha nature by doing the Buddha’s doing. We understand the importance of how we can cut into the core practice if we are able to turn our concepts toward righteousness. Any thoughts or movements in our daily lives can be seen as great learning experiences. As Venerable Guo Kai phrased it “What you can accomplish is dependent upon your own mindset.” When you practice the Amitabha Method, are you seeking a future birth in pure land, or merely a purification of your present thought, or doing the Buddha’s doing? Different mindsets will bring you different results. Our world is full of daily challenges and the key to liberation lies in whether or not we set in motion our Buddha nature when we encounter opportunities. Only by doing so can we achieve the true method of practice. Buddha nature comes from within ourselves and not from outside. 

Contrive your Buddha land  

As we approached the end of the workshop, participants were given an assignment: to sketch our own prospective Buddha land. Many participants thought this was a joke or empty talk because it was never a subject that crossed their minds. It was shocking that we spoke about attaining Buddhahood but had no clue what purpose or structure it would have. We didn't know what our Buddhalands were for and how this landscape was supposed to be comprised of. Without these essential elements, how could we initiate our first steps? Until now, we still lack of confidence about achieving Buddhahood and we are either unrealistic or over-optimistic. Instead of being frustrated, we can aim to emanate Amitabha Buddha’s journey. At his causal ground as a Bodhisattva, he spent 20 eons among myriad Buddhalands before he sketched his own. We commoners should initiate our blueprints as we set our Buddha nature toward affirmative directions. It is a lifetime project. Although completion of Buddhahood may seem far away or impossible, the seeds are already planted in our minds.  

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