Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Buddhism Rules!


THE FIVE PRECEPTS

I previously looked at Shakyamuni's earlier teachings of the FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS and the EIGHTFOLD PATH as they relate to Nichiren Buddhism, but Shakyamuni knew that it would be difficult for his followers at that time, especially lay people, to remember all of a sutra or to commit time to study his teachings in detail, so he distilled the essence of a good life into five precepts.  These precepts were a list of 5 rules to live your life by, and while they didn’t give a detailed explanation of the workings of the universe,  they would ensure that followers lived a respectful life, creating good causes for their future happiness.

In the Abhisanda Sutra he introduces these precepts and mentions that these are eternal guidelines since the beginning of time and as they “will never be open to suspicion” explains they will be eternal guidelines for all time in the future as well.
These five precepts were:

 “A disciple of the noble ones ... abstains from taking life.  ...
The disciple of the noble ones abstains from taking what is not given. ...

The disciple of the noble ones abstains from illicit sex. ...
The disciple of the noble ones abstains from lying. ...

The disciple of the noble ones abstains from taking intoxicants.”
I will go into these in a little more detail in a moment, but it’s interesting to note that in this sutra, all of these precepts are followed by the phrase:

“In doing so, he gives freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings.  In giving freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings, he gains a share in limitless freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, and freedom from oppression.”

I think this is a really interesting phrase, especially that by following these precepts a person “gains a share in limitless freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, and freedom from oppression”.   How does this happen?
Let’s imagine living in a village of 1000 people where everyone takes from others and there is no freedom from danger, animosity and oppression. If you and four friends choose to live by the precept of “abstaining from taking what is not given” there are now a few people in the village who will not take things from you, your friends and others, so you have already gained a very very small share of this limitless freedom as a result of your decision.  If another 300 people start to practice Buddhism and agree to follow these precepts, there is now a 30% drop in theft in the village which you all continue to share in.  And if in the future 98% of the village agrees “not to take what is not given”, your environment will be mostly free from danger, animosity and oppression.  In the same way, as we propagate Nichiren Buddhism and people start to reveal their Buddhahood, and respect the Buddhahood of other people in their communities, society starts to become a better, more peaceful and more harmonious place to live.

Returning to the five precepts, they are all based on respecting ourselves, our bodies and our property and the lives, bodies and property of others.  The Brahma Net Sutra goes into a little more detail: 
            (1)          A disciple of the Buddha shall not himself kill, encourage others to kill, kill by expedient means, praise killing, rejoice at witnessing killing, or kill through incantation or deviant mantras.  He must not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of killing, and shall not intentionally kill any living creature.”

(2)          "A disciple of the Buddha must not himself steal or encourage others to steal, steal by expedient means, and steal by means of incantation or deviant mantras.  He should not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of stealing. 

(3)          “A disciple of the Buddha must not engage in licentious acts or encourage others to do   so  ... nor create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of such misconduct.”  Generally, according to the sutra, priests, monks and nuns were forbidden from engaging in sexual activity, while lay believers were encouraged to conduct themselves in a pure way.  Some people wonder how this might relate to other aspects of sexuality?  Is it okay to have a same-sex partner or is this licentious?  Is it okay to engage in role-play, S&M or other fantasies, or is this licentious?  How about multiple partners?  Personally, I think a lot of this is down to your own personal choice, and as long as you and your partner are both consenting adults and happy within the relationship I don't see a problem.  Ultimately, like all of these precepts, the focus is on respecting yourself, your body and other people. 

(4)          “A disciple of the Buddha must not himself use false words and speech, or encourage others to lie or lie by expedient means.  He should not involve himself in the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of lying, saying that he has seen what he has not seen or vice-versa.”   In addition to verbally lying, this also includes physical gestures such as nodding or shaking your head to confirm or deny something, and remaining deceptively silent when asked if you have or haven’t done something. 

(5)          A disciple of the Buddha must not trade in alcoholic beverages or encourage others to do so.  He should not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of selling any intoxicant whatsoever, for intoxicants are the causes and conditions of all kinds of offenses.  The key point of this precept is that disciples of the Buddha should maintain a clear mind and body, and encourage others to do the same, so that they are aware of their behaviour and avoid committing offenses due to a lack of self-control. 
In addition to these there were an addition five precepts added for priests to follow and, over the years, these precepts were extended until there was a total of 250 precepts for monks and 500 precepts for nuns to follow.  Some people believe these precepts for monks and nuns were part of Shakyamuni’s teachings and designed to ensure followers who wanted to devote their entire lives to his teachings focussed on the essential qualities of a good monk or nun, while others disagree and think that 250 or more rules for living goes against his spirit of following the Middle Way.  

 PRECEPTS IN THE LATTER DAY OF THE LAW
Are these precepts still relevant today or have they also been replaced by The Lotus Sutra?

In general, Shakyamuni mentions in the “Treasure Tower” that the key precepts of the Lotus Sutra are accepting and upholding, and reading and reciting, this sutra, and Nichiren also advises a follower about to take part in a debate with another Buddhist school to “tell them that the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo, the heart of the essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra, contain the benefit amassed through the countless practices and meritorious deeds of all Buddhas throughout the three existences.  Then, how can these five characters not include the benefits obtained by observing all of the Buddhas’ precepts?  ... Now in the Latter Day of the Law, any person ... who embraces Myoho-renge-kyo and practices it in accordance with the Buddha’s teaching, cannot fail to gain the fruit of Buddhahood. ... Now that so wondrous a precept [the Diamond Chalice Precept of the Lotus Sutra] has been revealed, none of the precepts expounded in the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings or in the theoretical teaching have the slightest power to benefit people.  Since they provide not the slightest benefit, it is totally useless to observe them, even for a single day.” (WND-1, p481-482)
From this Gosho we can see that none of the pre-Lotus Sutra precepts are necessary for our practice, but I still think these first five precepts are important "eternal guidelines" for us to consider in our daily lives, which accord with the general philosophy of the Lotus Sutra to respect the dignity of our lives and the lives of others.
 
So what are the precepts for the modern Nichiren Buddhist? 

The four precepts of the Lotus Sutra are:
(1)      Accept the Lotus Sutra
(2)      Uphold the Lotus Sutra
(3)      Read the Lotus Sutra
(4)      Recite the Lotus Sutra

And for Nichiren Buddhists:
THE ONE ESSENTIAL PRECEPT IS TO CHANT “NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO”
 

Monday, 30 September 2013

Dr. Shakyamuni's Cure


THE EIGHTFOLD PATH

After diagnosing the problem in THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS, Shakyamuni outlined a practical eight point plan for his followers to overcome the stress and suffering in their lives.  This EIGHTFOLD PATH, explained in the Magga-VibhangaSutra, is another of Shakyamuni’s most famous early teachings. 

Just as a reminder, as Nichiren Buddhists it’s not essential to study these early teachings, and in “The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon”, Nichiren Daishonin writes:

"Since Nichiren’s disciples and lay supporters believe solely in the Lotus Sutra, honestly discarding expedient means and not accepting even a single verse of the other sutras exactly as the Lotus teaches, they can enter the treasure tower of the Gohonzon. How reassuring! ... What is most important is that, by chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo alone, you can attain Buddhahood." (WND-1, p832)

As we can see from this quote, it’s not necessary to study the teachings from the earlier periods, but they do give an insight into Shakyamuni’s wisdom and his ability to lead people towards a true understanding of the true nature of all phenomena.  With this in mind, rather than just listing the traditional interpretation of the EIGHTFOLD PATH below, I have also shown how this path might correlate to us as Votaries of the Lotus Sutra. 
 

 
A GENERAL EXPLANATION
THE LOTUS SUTRA PERSPECTIVE
 
RIGHT VIEW
 
This is the fundamental way that we see the world around us and understanding of how the universe works.  This is affected by the depth of our belief in, and our understanding of, the Buddha’s teachings and has a profound effect on all other aspects of our daily life. From these early teachings, this view is the simplistic understanding of the four noble truths.
 
For a Nichiren Buddhist, this fundamental view is based on the depth of our belief in the profound and ultimate teaching of the Lotus Sutra, the true aspect of all phenomena and our complete faith in the power of “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo”.
 
RIGHT INTENTION,(RIGHT ATTITUDE & RIGHT THOUGHT)
 
RIGHT VIEW concerns our knowledge, wisdom and intellectual understanding of the Buddha’s teachings, but here we are thinking about how we can apply this knowledge in our daily life.  It is our commitment or promise to ourself to live our life in accordance with these teachings.  These thoughts then reveal themselves through our words and actions.
 
As a votary of the Lotus Sutra,  I try to live my life based on the INTENTION and ATTITUDE of this phrase from Chapter 16 of The Lotus Sutra:
“At all times I think to myself.  How can I cause living beings to gain entry into the unsurpassed way and quickly acquire the body of a Buddha?”
 
RIGHT SPEECH
 
In addition to this 8 point plan, Shakyamuni also taught some basic rules for living, known as precepts, which would help people to say and do the right thing.  These would cover things such as not lying, not joining in with gossip or slander and speaking respectfully to others.
 
Within the context of the Lotus Sutra, in addition to the general “rules” of respect for others, embodied by Bodhisattva Never Disparaging, and avoiding deceit and slander, the most important aspect of RIGHT SPEECH is propagating Nichiren Buddhism, talking to people about the Mystic Law of the Lotus Sutra, and teaching others to chant “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo”
 
RIGHT ACTION
 
Turning to the precepts, we have a few rules for living which cover things such as treating the lives and possessions of others with respect,and  behaving kindly and compassionately.
 
As with SPEECH, our RIGHT VIEW and RIGHT INTENTION lead us to treat others and their belongings with respect.  But, as Votaries of the Lotus Sutra, it’s also essential that we make time to study and deepen our understanding of Nichiren Buddhism, help others to do the same and take action towards our shared goal of kosen-rufu.
 
RIGHT LIVELIHOOD
 
Traditionally, this “path” encourages us to earn a living responsibly and not engage in any career that could compromise the previous four RIGHTS.  i.e. we shouldn’t be involved in work that harms animals or puts the lives of others in danger.  Some early followers would avoid work concerned with the slaughtering of animals for food, selling “dangerous” substances such as alcohol and tobacco and become conscientious objectors if asked to enrol in the army.
 
Similar considerations should be given to any career we become involved in as Nichiren Buddhists, and whatever career we chose should match with our RIGHT VIEW and RIGHT INTENTION. 
President Toda, the second Soka Gakkai president, used to say that “Everyone’s ideal is to get a job they like, that offers financial security and where they can contribute to society.”
 
 
RIGHT EFFORT
 
In the Magga-Vibhanga Sutra, right effort has four parts.  (1) To make efforts to prevent “evil, unskillful qualities that have not yet arisen”.  (2) To make efforts to abandon “evil, unskillful qualities that have risen”.  (3) To bring out “skillful qualities that have not yet arisen” (4) To maintain, increase and develop “skillful qualities that have arisen”
 
As Nichiren Buddhists, we chant to bring forth our innate buddhahood and corresponding buddha wisdom.  The main focus of our lives is (1) To make efforts to “free ourselves from the sufferings of birth and death ... and to attain without fail unsurpassed enlightenment in this lifetime.”  (2) To make efforts to talk to others and encourage them to  attain unsurpassed enlightenment in this lifetime.” 
 
 
RIGHT MINDFULNESS
 
As we live our daily lives, we may not always be 100% aware of what we are saying and doing, which can affect the clarity of our practice.  RIGHT MINDFULNESS is the first of the “higher” paths and involves actively “seeing” ourselves and our behaviour in light of our faith.  In terms of the early teachings it is about being aware of your body, your feelings, your thoughts and yourself and seeing with clarity the truth of the Buddha’s teaching.  
 
We study, and reflect on our attitude and behaviour and how it relates to the eternity of life, the Mystic Law of cause and effect and the true nature of all phenomena.  Through chanting and continual self-improvement, we can make greater efforts in our daily practice and efforts to propagate Nichiren Buddhism, so that we strengthen our faith and never begrudge our lives.
 
RIGHT CONCENTRATION (or MEDITATION)
 
In many ways this is the heart and soul of the Buddha’s teachings and the practice, and according to the earlier teachings, meditation can be a silent focused concentration on a single object or thought to achieve a pure state of mind, or the repetition of the name of a third-person Buddha from a teaching to bring out those characteristics in the practitioner.  
 
“What is most important is that, by chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo alone, you can attain Buddhahood.”  (WND-1, p832)
Chanting “Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo” brings forth Buddhahood from within our lives and gives us the wisdom to deal with any obstacle we may be facing from a win-win perspective.  Chanting also allows us to strengthen our faith and enhances all of the other seven “paths”.


The FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS and the EIGHTFOLD PATH were intended to help lead people of learning towards an understanding of suffering and encourage them to live their lives in harmony with the universe, but Shakyamuni knew this might be quite challenging for general followers or lay people.  For them he came up with five basic rules to live their lives by - the FIVE PRECEPTS ...

 

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Dr. Shakyamuni's Diagnosis


THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS

One of the reasons behind Shakyamuni’s quest for enlightenment was to find an explanation and a cure for the cause of suffering in society.  In one of the most famous of his early teachings, Shakyamuni lays out the problem as he sees it, explains the cause of the problem and offers hope and a solution. 

In the Sammaditthi Sutra, he says, “When a disciple of the noble ones discerns stress, the origination of stress, the cessation of stress, and the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress, then he has arrived at this true Dhamma.” 
From this we get the FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS:

(1)   People suffer. 

This may seem a pessimistic or negative diagnosis, but it is a reality of people’s lives.  Like a doctor, Shakyamuni knew that he had to identify and acknowledge the nature of the disease, before he would be able to treat it.  Dr. Shakyamuni’s diagnosis was that the four main sources of suffering are the physical and emotional stress of birth, aging, sickness and death.  In addition to these, there were four extra causes of stress.  These were parting from those we love, meeting with those we hate, not being able to attain something we want and disappointment due to errors in our thoughts and expectations of how we think life should be.
 

(2)   The cause of suffering is due to our clingings, cravings and desires. 

Dr. Shakyamuni’s diagnosis was that this stress comes from a deep desire for things to stay the same, for things to not stay the same or for things to turn out how we want them to.  These desires are largely manifest in our lives due to our inherent greed, anger and ignorance.
 

(3)   There is a way to break free from this suffering. 

Good news!  There is a cure and Dr. Shakyamuni can teach us how to free ourselves from these cravings and desires which lead to emotional, physical and mental sufferings.
 

(4)   To break free from suffering follow the EIGHTFOLD PATH.

And finally, the medicine - if you live your life according to Dr. Shakyamuni’s eight guidelines you will overcome this greed, hate and ignorance, and ultimately free yourself from the cravings and desires which lead to suffering.
 
Nichiren Buddhists follow the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, which states in Chapter 3 that while in the past these four noble truths WERE taught as the truth, in reality the wisdom of the Lotus Sutra is the most wonderful, unsurpassed great Law: 

“In the past at Varanasi you turned the wheel of the Law of the four noble truths, making distinctions, preaching that all things are born and become extinct, being made up of the five components.  Now you turn the wheel of the most wonderful, the unsurpassed great Law.  This Law is very profound and abstruse;  there are few who can believe it.  Since times past often we have heard the World-Honored One's preaching, but we have never heard this kind of profound, wonderful and superior Law.  Since the World-Honored One preaches this Law, we all welcome it with joy.” (The Lotus Sutra)

 
From this perspective, while Nichiren Buddhists don’t specifically follow the four noble truths, in light of the Lotus Sutra they could be interpreted as:

(1)  Life consists of joy and suffering. 

(2)  The cause of this suffering is anger, greed and an ignorance of the workings of the universe. 

(3)  There is a way to achieve absolute happiness and reveal our Buddhahood in this lifetime just as we are. 

(4)  "If you wish to free yourself from the sufferings of birth and death you have endured since time without beginning and to attain without fail unsurpassed enlightenment in this lifetime, you must perceive the mystic truth that is originally inherent in all living beings ... [by] chanting Myoho-renge-kyo."  (WND-1, p3), following the EIGHTFOLD PATH as it relates to the Lotus Sutra and teaching others to do the same.

 

Friday, 20 September 2013

Stepping Stones


Shakyamuni contemplated the abilities of the people living around him at that time and realized after struggling to teach the profound wisdom of his enlightenment through the Flower Garland Sutra that “the true aspect of all phenomena can only be understood and shared between buddhas” (Lotus Sutra, Chapter 2).   He needed to find other ways to introduce the key themes of his enlightenment and to help people to lead lives that would flow with the natural rhythm of the world and create good causes for their future success until they were ready for this “true aspect”.  

A lot of these basic teachings which come from the first 12 years of Shakyamuni’s teachings are the concepts that many people may have come across before in pre-Lotus Sutra schools of Buddhism.  These early sutras, which acted as an  elementary course in Buddhism, introduced the basic stepping stones that Shakyamuni believed would eventually lead his followers towards understanding the complete and difficult to comprehend wisdom which he would later reveal in the Lotus Sutra – his advanced course in Buddhism.  

Some of Shakyamuni’s teachings are based on themes from the Vedas, a religious text that he would have studied as a prince growing up, and they basically fall into the following categories.

Everything Is Always In A State of Change
Everything in life is in a permanent state of change.  The weather changes, the current government changes, our bodies age, get sick and eventually die.  Even our attitudes change as we get older – some people may become more cynical or fatalistic with age, while others, such as those who embrace Buddhism can develop a shining attitude of joy and hopefulness come what may.   This was initially explained and clarified with the FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS.
 

Everything is Connected, Nothing is Wasted
We affect those around us and are affected by those around us.  What we do to others we do to ourselves.  A lot of the “rules” of early Buddhism were ways for lay Buddhists and monks to live in harmony within their environment, such as the EIGHTFOLD PATH and the PRECEPTS. 

 
The Rules of Cause and Effect
Because everything is connected, everything we think, say and do has an effect on our environment and on our lives.  With this knowledge, we strive to live our lives creating good causes, which will lead to positive effects in our future (or future lives).  Our karma is simply the result of all of the effects from all of the causes we have made in this life and previous lifetimes.  The way we are today is a reflection of these past causes and also determines the kind of life we will have in the future.  The early teachings focused on the simple TWELVE LINKED CHAIN OF CAUSATION and ways of living to create good causes, but these were clarified in more detail in THE TEN FACTORS of the Lotus Sutra.  From the Dhammapada, a selection of inspirational and wise quotes from Shakyamuni's early teachings, this is summarised as "The kind of seed sown will produce that kind of fruit".  
 

Reincarnation/Rebirth
Even death is a state of change and, depending on how we have lived and the causes we have made in this life, we can affect our future lives.  A lot of the early teachings focused on making good causes in this life to be reborn with a higher life state in the next life or the achievement of nirvana (rebirth in a heavenly land of Buddhahood and eternal joy). 

The main teaching from this section is the WHEEL OF LIFE (referred to as samsara in Brahmanic/Hindu philosophy) which highlighted that people live and are reborn in one of six worlds - Hell-Beings, Hungry Ghosts, Animals, Asuras (Beings with an Aggresive or Arrogant Nature), Humans and Heavenly Beings.  But by studying and awakening to these realities of life, and making good causes in this lifetime you could break free of these lower worlds and achieve one of the four higher states of enlightenment (Learning, Realisation, Bodhisattva and ultimately Buddhahood) in a future existence.   This entry-level approach to the TEN WORLDS was expanded upon in the Lotus Sutra which revealed everyone possesses all of these ten life states in every moment of their lives and they can reveal their Buddhahood at any time – MUTUAL POSSESSION OF THE TEN WORLDS.

DID YOU KNOW? - Did you know the game Snakes and Ladders is an ancient Indian board game about escaping from this wheel of life and that when your reach square 100 you have achieved moksha (liberation from these six lower worlds).  The ladders represent the benefit you will receive from virtuous acts, whereas the snakes represent descent into the lower worlds as a result of destructive actions.  The game also has more snakes than ladders highlighting that it is easier to be tempted by innumerable vices and desires than it is to follow a path of good.
 

The Middle Way
Shakyamuni’s initial teachings focussed on the Middle Way and how to create good causes for future happiness.  As a prince, and then later as a follower of very strict austere practices, Shakyamuni had experienced a life of over-indulgence and hedonism and the extremes of over-denial of food, sleep, etc.  and he realized that neither of these had led to the awakening he experienced under the Pipal tree.  The true reality of life was to be found in the Middle Way which falls between these two extremes and creates the right conditions for a purposeful life of good causes leading to a higher state of life in the future. 

Verse 183 of the Dhammapada, a book of inspirational and wise quotes from these early teachings, sums up the core of Shakyamuni’s approach to life:  “To avoid all evil, to cultivate good and to cleanse one’s mind.  This is the teaching of the Buddhas.”

Over the next few posts I will look at some of these earlier teachings in a bit more detail.  For Nichiren Buddhists these early teachings are not an essential part of our study or practice, but are presented here to show how Shakyamuni introduced, and led, his first disciples to the true aspect of all phenomena and provide them with a knowledge and practise that they would initially be able to follow. 

THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS (see Dr. Shakyamuni's Diagnosis)

THE EIGHTFOLD PATH (see Dr. Shakyamuni’s Cure)

THE FIVE PRECEPTS (see Buddhism Rules!)

THE TWELVE-LINKED CHAIN OF CAUSATION (see Chain Reaction)

THE SIX PARAMITAS (see Six of the Best) COMING SOON!!!

Friday, 30 August 2013

The Teacher of The Law


Last time I looked at Shakyamuni’s enlightenment after overcoming temptation from the devil under the Pipal (Bodhi) tree, and this time I wanted to look at how he started to teach this profound wisdom and how his teachings developed until the time of his death.

Turning to Chapter 2 of the Lotus Sutra, we find that Shakyamuni wanted to teach people but worried they wouldn’t be able to grasp this profound teaching.  T’ien-T’ai believed from his research - and the following extract - that Shakyamuni tried to teach the Flower Garland Sutra and the interconnectedness of everything to the local people during this 21 day period, and their inability to understand gave him cause for concern.  In his earlier teachings Shakyamuni mentioned the re-appearance of Mara encouraging him not to teach this law to others as they wouldn’t understand it.  This was followed by the appearance of Brahma to encourage him to share this wisdom with the world.  In the Lotus Sutra we don’t have the appearance of Mara, but the text shows that Shakyamuni was struggling to think of how he could teach people and whether his efforts would be worthwhile or not. 

“When I first sat in the place of enlightenment and gazed at the tree and walked around it for the space of three times seven days I pondered the matter in this way.  The wisdom I have attained, I thought, is subtle, wonderfull, the foremost.  But living beings, dull in capacity, are addicted to pleasure and blinded by foolishness.  With persons such as this, what can I say, how can i save them?

 At that time the Brahma kings, along with the heavenly king Shakra, the four heavenly kings who guard the world, and the heavenly king Great Freedom, in company with other heavenly beings and their hundreds and thousands and ten thousands of followers, reverently pressed their palms together and bowed, begging me to turn the wheel of the Law.

Immediately I thought to myself that if I merely praised the buddha vehicle, then the living beings, sunk in their suffering, would be incapable of believing in this Law.  And because they rejected the Law and failed to believe in it, they would fall into the three evil paths.”  (LSOC2, p76 - 77)

Previous teachings mention that next Mara said to Shakyamuni that rather than live with the knowledge that he would be unable to save people he should take his own life and enter nirvana, but again in the Lotus Sutra we find this as an internal thought process that is quickly resolved, when Shakyamuni decides to break this wisdom down into more manageable chunks of information that would be easier for people to understand:

“It would be better if I did not preach the Law but quickly entered into nirvana.  Then my thoughts turned to the buddhas of the past and the power of expedient means they had employed, and I thought that the way I had now attained should likewise be preached as three vehicles.  (LSOC2, p 77)
This internal dialogue is interesting because it shows that a Buddha, or someone enlightened to the reality of the universe, is not a God or someone who has escaped from the suffering and pain of everyday life.  They still face the same trials, temptations, desires and sufferings as others, but choose to make continuous efforts, drawing on this Buddhist wisdom, to make the right choices in their life.  

Throughout the rest of his lifetime, Shakyamuni taught thousands of sutra in an effort to lead people towards Buddhahood and to fulfil his “... vow, hoping to make all persons equal to [him], without any distinction between us.”  (LSOC2, p70).  Some of these sutra were very short and some very long, some were based on useful practices and skills, others based on useful knowledge.  Some were stand alone teachings, some refuted what had gone before and others confirmed that previous sutra were the true path to Buddhahood.  In 6th century China, T’ien-T’ai categorised all of these teachings into periods and he came up with the following: 

PERIOD
YEARS TAUGHT
SUTRA
NOTES
 
THE
 
FLOWER
 
GARLAND
 
PERIOD
 
 
 
21 DAYS
 
 
Avatamsaka Sutra (Flower Garland Sutra)
Shakyamuni’s first attempt to lead people to enlightenment proved too challenging at the time and he realised he would need to break the teaching down into smaller steps that people could understand.
 
THE
 
AGAMA
 
PERIOD
 
 
 
12  YEARS
 
 
PALI CANON
This was the start of the Hinayana, or Therevadan, teachings.  Both the Therevadan and Vinaya schools come from this period, as do the early schools of RITSU and  SHINGON.
 
THE
 
CORRECT
 
AND
 
EQUAL
 
PERIOD
 
 
8 YEARS
 
 
Early Mahayana Sutra, including Vimalakirti, Muryoju, Amitayus & Amida Sutras.  This period also included some of the esoteric sutras.
At this time Shakyamuni refuted the earlier teachings and started to teach the provisional Mahayana teachings.  Some of them focus on ways to be reborn into a perfect land in the next life.  The PURE LAND school comes from these teachings, as do some of the later ideas of the SHINGON and RITSU schools and the ZEN schools.
 
THE
 
WISDOM
 
PERIOD
 
22 YEARS
 
Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, The Heart Sutra and the Diamond Sutra
These refute the provisional Mahayana teachings and lead people to a higher level Mahayana teaching, such as supreme wisdom, non-substantiality, etc. in preparation for his final teachings.
 
THE
 
LOTUS
 
PERIOD
 
LAST
8 YEARS
OF HIS LIFE
 
Immeasurable Meanings Sutra, Lotus Sutra, Sutra on How to Practice Meditation on Bodhisattva Universal Worthy and the Nirvana Sutra
The earlier teachings allowed followers to overcome the earthly desires that were understood to cause suffering and achieve a state of peace and calm, but Shakyamuni now felt the time was right to reveal in The Lotus Sutra how all people could acquire the same profound enlightenment he himself had attained.  These teachings are the foundation of the early Tendai schools and Nichiren Buddhism.

 
As you can see, the final years of Shakyamuni’s life were dedicated to revealing the complete wisdom that he had awoken to more than 40 years before.  He now felt that he had laid all of the groundwork necessary and, although he still knew that “the door to this wisdom [was] difficult to understand and difficult to enter”  (LSOC2, p56), he decided the time was right to teach the complete truth of the universe, life and death and how to achieve absolute happiness in this lifetime.   This ultimate teaching was the Mystic Law of the Lotus Sutra, including it’s opening and closing sutra, and his final teaching, delivered on the day he died, was the Nirvana Sutra.  This DIDN’T replace the Lotus Sutra, but confirmed that the Lotus Sutra was his final teaching which contained the complete wisdom of his enlightenment.  He also wanted to warn his followers that Mara (the Devil King) would change his shape into that of a Buddha and try to destroy Shakyamuni’s correct teaching.  For this reason, the Nirvana Sutra also advised his disciples that they should continue to follow the Mystic Law of the Universe, rather than deifying or worshipping him (or any other future Buddhist leaders).  

NEXT TIME – A look at some of the early Buddhist teachings.