questions regarding the Lotus Sutra

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questions regarding the Lotus Sutra

Postby questions » Wed Oct 02, 2013 1:33 pm

While being fascinated with the Lotus Sutra i found some things in the text confusing. Maybe a dharma teacher can make some things clear for me.

The parable of the burning house. The father is the buddha, the children are all living beings in the threefold world, the flames are the passions. These parts are clear to me.

However in the parable only the human children are the sons/children of the buddha. Allot of dangerous living beings are described in there, what are they?

Aren't they children of the buddha?

Do the human children represent all living beings and if so what are the other creatures? I

If the human children are all living beings how can they be attracted towards the three carriages since only human beings and perhaps some other intelligent life forms can practice buddhism?

Also i am slighty bothered by the fact that common species of animals in that house are descibed as being evil (in the translation of Gene reeves atleast).

Further in that chapter Gene Reeves translates those who slander the sutra as having committed a sin. is sin the correct translation, i find biblical terminology slightly off putting.

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Re: questions regarding the Lotus Sutra

Postby PorkChop » Wed Oct 02, 2013 4:52 pm

It's all metaphors.
The 3 types of children are sravakas (disciples), pratekyas (lone yogis), and bodhisattvas.
The 3 different cards represent the 3 different sets of motivations/rewards for each.
The oxen & carts the children receive after escaping is unsurpassed Buddhahood, they are not being given literal sentient beings.
The dangerous animals in the house are the kilesas that plague those in the burning house (the 5 skandhas).
Wouldn't get too hung up on the imagery being used, just understand its purpose and absorb the general message.
"Sin" is probably "akusula" or "unskillful action".
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Re: questions regarding the Lotus Sutra

Postby Seishin » Wed Oct 02, 2013 4:53 pm

I am by no means a master, but here are my thoughts;

The focus of this story is not so much the children but how the father managed to save the children from the house. The sutra is trying to use an understandable story to illustrate how skilful means are used. When the father said "get out! the house is on fire!" the children ignored him because they were distracted by their desires (toys). So the father used their own desires to get the children out of the house... "I have some better, more beautiful toys here".

Someone more learned than I may be able to give a better explanation :smile:

Gassho,
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Re: questions regarding the Lotus Sutra

Postby Jikan » Wed Oct 02, 2013 7:05 pm

questions wrote:Also i am slighty bothered by the fact that common species of animals in that house are descibed as being evil (in the translation of Gene reeves atleast).

Further in that chapter Gene Reeves translates those who slander the sutra as having committed a sin. is sin the correct translation, i find biblical terminology slightly off putting.


There have been two good responses to your questions overall so far; I'd like to add just a bit on these two points.

*The animals are certainly scary, and experienced as external to oneself, and therefore seem "evil." The point is that they're very frightful, harmful, malicious. This isn't a safe place for children to play obliviously, but here we are, playing obliviously... (if you think about it, hatred, ignorance, greediness &c are dangerous to us in precisely that way... we keep getting ourselves in horrible situations by not recognizing the causes at work)

*Gene Reeves' translation attempts to rope in traditional English-language religious discourses to the Sutra. I'm not convinced this is a good idea. There are, in my opinion, clearer translations available (the BDK translation is quite good, for instance).

*On the question of being the sons and daughters of Buddha... wait until you get to chapter four!

enjoy your reading...
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Re: questions regarding the Lotus Sutra

Postby questions » Thu Oct 03, 2013 12:00 am

Thanks for all the replies!

So basically the house is ment to represent the defiled mind and not the material world?

Being a recent convert to mahayana buddhism i generally know more about the pali texts and not that much about the mahayana ones.

*Gene Reeves' translation attempts to rope in traditional English-language religious discourses to the Sutra. I'm not convinced this is a good idea. There are, in my opinion, clearer translations available (the BDK translation is quite good, for instance).


I have ordered the BDK version :smile: .

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Re: questions regarding the Lotus Sutra

Postby PorkChop » Thu Oct 03, 2013 12:29 am

questions wrote:So basically the house is meant to represent the defiled mind and not the material world?

ummm both?
The house itself represents mental abode, often overly enamored with the 5 skandhas, which comprise the material world (or our interaction with it). Playing with toys represents attachment to sensuality, taking delight in sensuality, craving. the beasties are manifestations of the kilesas, all generated from the 3 root poisons (craving, aversion, ignorance). The fire represents impermanence, suffering, that which is not self (think Adittapariyaya Sutta).

There's a lot of common ground between the East Asian traditions, the Tibetan traditions, and the Theravadan traditions. The differences may not be exactly what they are sometimes presented to be. To me the major differences (at least between the sravaka path, the pratekya path, and the bodhisatva path) are motivation and this chapter of the Lotus sutra is the perfect example of that.

Good call on the BDK, it's the one I use as well.
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Re: questions regarding the Lotus Sutra

Postby Jikan » Thu Oct 03, 2013 12:34 am

questions wrote:So basically the house is ment to represent the defiled mind and not the material world?


It represents samsara, which means the same thing basically in all Buddhist teachings.

In context, this passage is meant as a way to explain how it is that Buddha Shakyamuni is willing to give apparently different explanations to different disciples at different times--a theme that will come up again in other contexts as you continue your study of this sutra. Which one is the "real" and true truth--the promise of a toy cart made to solve an immediate problem, or the bigger and more splendid and complete vehicle really given once the children are out of immediate danger? That's the thrust of it: how not only arhatship, but also Buddhahood is possible as an alternative to the burning house of samsara.

EDIT: porkchop got a good post in there while I was writing this one! apologies for the little bit of redundancy.
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Re: questions regarding the Lotus Sutra

Postby PorkChop » Thu Oct 03, 2013 12:43 am

Jikan wrote:It represents samsara, which means the same thing basically in all Buddhist teachings.


Doh! Knew I forgot something. Nice catch. :)
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