The height of the Treasure tower (Lotus Sutra)

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The height of the Treasure tower (Lotus Sutra)

Postby norman » Sun Mar 20, 2011 1:35 pm

I have not read the Lotus Sutra, but I've read quotes of it.

The Treasure tower is, apparently "five hundred yojanas in height and two hundred and fifty yojanas in width and depth" (chapter 11), equivalent to half the diameter of the earth, and Mt Meru (Sumeru) is a hundred yojanas. This means that the Treasure tower is five times the height of Mt Meru.

Now since the Treasure tower is five times higher than Mt Meru, how far does the tower reach into the realms above? The Desire realm does not reach outside of Mt Meru (hundred yojanas), does it?

What is the meaning of its height, other than being just a number? Is the entrance to the tower (where the Many Treasures Buddha is) in a specific realm, or is the peak of the tower in a specific realm? Or both?

__________________________________________

translation by Burton Watson

http://www.fodian.net/world/262_11.html

add: obviously it mentions that it is so high that it reaches "to the heavenly places of the Four Heavenly Kings".
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Re: The height of the Treasure tower (Lotus Sutra)

Postby Jikan » Sun Mar 20, 2011 1:57 pm

There are a number of fantastic elements to the Lotus Sutra. The height of the Treasure Stupa is but one of them.

I tend to understand these thematic and stylistic elements as intended to make a kind of literary (rhetorical?) impact on the reader. This thing is HUGE! One might make an analogy to a science fiction film or a Garcia Marquez novel: individual elements may sound weird (a man-sized dog named Chewbacca is driving the spaceship?), but in the whole, it holds together and is effective. My point is that this kind of description makes sense in context. So if you want to "get" it, you might as well read it.

I'd advise a different translation from the Watson, though: it's less clear and less precise than some others. Murano's translation is the best for reading and study in my opinion, but can be hard to find. The Reeves translation is useful. The Hurvitz translation is poetic in some places, which I find appealing, but it's not the easiest to read. And then there's the Threefold Lotus Sutra, which is also valuable.

Hope that helps.
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Re: The height of the Treasure tower (Lotus Sutra)

Postby norman » Mon Mar 21, 2011 1:58 am

Thanks, Jikan.

Indeed alot of Mahayana sutras seems to indulge in these extraordinary elements for dramatic effect. My preferences have usually been for those sutras, texts, etc, that has kept the dramatic imagery to a minimum. Usually you have to dig for years to get to the nuts and bolts, or the inner "machinery", so to speak, of the sutras.

Thank you for your book reviews, it's much appreciated. I've had the impression that Watson's translation was the best, but I'll look into the other translations.
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Re: The height of the Treasure tower (Lotus Sutra)

Postby Jikan » Mon Mar 21, 2011 1:47 pm

Hi norman,

You raise an interesting point, because it poses the question of what counts as a truth claim in Mahayana literature. These are not exclusively appeals to reason. Analogy: _Paradise Lost_ is explicitly fiction, but is it false? I'd say it has a lot of truth to offer to those of us who are not Puritans or even Christians, but it presents it in a series of frames that themselves make an impact. If the Pali Canon is in emphasis Socratic, then the Ekayana sutras are definitely Miltonic, mythic in scope. (if that analogy makes much sense.)

I think the _Lotus Sutra_ is a presentation of the truth of the Dharma, but it's a different kind of presentation than many readers have been accustomed to.

The Watson translation is favored by Soka Gakkai Int'l. It's generally out of favor elsewhere, and this is what motivated Reeves to do his version and for the Hurvitz translation to come back into print recently. So I should have said: "it depends who you ask..."
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Re: The height of the Treasure tower (Lotus Sutra)

Postby Astus » Mon Mar 21, 2011 4:27 pm

The Lotus Sutra (PDF) by Tsugunari Kubo & Akira Yuyama is another translation not mentioned.

It's not difficult to make up different interpretations of 500, especially because 5 is a popular number in Buddhism (e.g. five dhyani buddhas), but it isn't integral to the text itself.

Case 35 in the Blue Cliff Record is an interesting one.

Manjusri asked Wuzhuo, "Where did you just come from?"
"From the south," replied Wuzhuo.
"And how does the buddhadharma fare in the south?" asked Manjusri.
Wuzhuo answered, "There are but few monks in the Final Age of the Law who maintain the precepts."
Manjusri asked, "How many monks are there?"
Wuzhuo replied, "Some are three hundred, some are five hundred."
Wuzhuo then asked Manjusri, "How does the buddhadharma fare here?"
Manjusri said, "Worldly people and sages live together; dragons and snakes intermingle."
"How many monks are there?" asked Wuzhuo.
Manjusri answered, "Front, three and three, back, three and three."
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: The height of the Treasure tower (Lotus Sutra)

Postby Jikan » Mon Mar 21, 2011 9:20 pm

:applause: Excellent, Astus!

I think the Blue Cliff Record is saturated with this kind of practice and imagery.

#39 comes to mind for me (the flowering hedge)

#33 and #95 might be more directly relevant than that one, though (just from a glance at my notes here...)

I probably shouldn't be discussing these in public, though, as my understanding of this material just comes from reading and contemplating them on my own, not in the context of practice with a teacher.
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Re: The height of the Treasure tower (Lotus Sutra)

Postby norman » Fri Mar 25, 2011 2:57 pm

Hello Jikan,

Reeves' contemporary version, Kato's Threefold Lotus, and Watson's Lotus seems to have received most praise.

Why do you consider Murano's version to be the best one? I can't find any reviews or comments on it, so it's hard to make an interpretation of its "quality", so to speak.

My interest is the version where the focus is on the essential meaning. All the sutras are, in my opinion deeply metaphysical, in comparsion with the modern materialist-positivist attitude we live by today. Any extra layers (other than what is already there) of poetical translation/interpretation, would only obscure the original intent.

As for your comment on the Mahayana sutras truth claims, I do infact have an idea for a topic on that one, already. I'll leave my comments to that. :)

Your analogy make sense, though.



I have found a site that sells copies of Murano's translation:

http://www.nichiren-shu.org/books/lotus2.html

And a pdf-version:

http://www.nshi.org/Lotus%20Sutra/Saddh ... nglish.htm

______________________

add: Watson has released another version as well, called The Essential Lotus. Is it the same as the first one, only smaller?

second add: it seems that Reeves has translated dharmas into "things".
Does it really help to clarify the sutra, considering how the word "dharmas" are used in buddhist texts?
Last edited by norman on Fri Mar 25, 2011 3:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The height of the Treasure tower (Lotus Sutra)

Postby Aemilius » Fri Mar 25, 2011 3:21 pm

norman wrote:I have not read the Lotus Sutra, but I've read quotes of it.

The Treasure tower is, apparently "five hundred yojanas in height and two hundred and fifty yojanas in width and depth" (chapter 11), equivalent to half the diameter of the earth, and Mt Meru (Sumeru) is a hundred yojanas. This means that the Treasure tower is five times the height of Mt Meru.

Now since the Treasure tower is five times higher than Mt Meru, how far does the tower reach into the realms above? The Desire realm does not reach outside of Mt Meru (hundred yojanas), does it?

What is the meaning of its height, other than being just a number? Is the entrance to the tower (where the Many Treasures Buddha is) in a specific realm, or is the peak of the tower in a specific realm? Or both?




Mt Meru is really 84 000 Yojanas high! See the correct calculations here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Meru
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Re: The height of the Treasure tower (Lotus Sutra)

Postby norman » Fri Mar 25, 2011 3:32 pm

Aemilius wrote:Mt Meru is really 84 000 Yojanas high! See the correct calculations here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Meru


My bad. The length seems to vary between different sources.
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Re: The height of the Treasure tower (Lotus Sutra)

Postby Aemilius » Fri Mar 25, 2011 3:43 pm

Here is another interpretation of this topic http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f=77&t=2134
i.e. the correct location of Mount Meru
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Re: The height of the Treasure tower (Lotus Sutra)

Postby Jikan » Fri Mar 25, 2011 5:48 pm

norman wrote:Hello Jikan,

Reeves' contemporary version, Kato's Threefold Lotus, and Watson's Lotus seems to have received most praise.

Why do you consider Murano's version to be the best one? I can't find any reviews or comments on it, so it's hard to make an interpretation of its "quality", so to speak.

My interest is the version where the focus is on the essential meaning. All the sutras are, in my opinion deeply metaphysical, in comparsion with the modern materialist-positivist attitude we live by today. Any extra layers (other than what is already there) of poetical translation/interpretation, would only obscure the original intent.

As for your comment on the Mahayana sutras truth claims, I do infact have an idea for a topic on that one, already. I'll leave my comments to that. :)

Your analogy make sense, though.



I have found a site that sells copies of Murano's translation:

http://www.nichiren-shu.org/books/lotus2.html

And a pdf-version:

http://www.nshi.org/Lotus%20Sutra/Saddh ... nglish.htm

______________________

add: Watson has released another version as well, called The Essential Lotus. Is it the same as the first one, only smaller?

second add: it seems that Reeves has translated dharmas into "things".
Does it really help to clarify the sutra, considering how the word "dharmas" are used in buddhist texts?


I like Murano's version best on the subjective basis that it's easiest for me to read, and I have it on good authority that the translation is appropriate to the meaning of the text. It's the one we use for recitation and study at the Tendai Buddhist Institute, so there may be a force-of-habit aspect to it as well.

I agree with the general thrust of your claim that it's best to find a rigorous and clear translation without too much interpolation (Reeves translates the Indic pantheon of supernatural creatures as titans, centaurs, dragons... a decision of debatable value).

I don't think I understand the distinction you allude to between the metaphysical on one side and the positivistic on the other; positivism is definitely a metaphysics (in the sense of an ontology), while materialism as I understand it is intended as a critical antidote to metaphysical idealism, which is to say, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism is a rigorously materialistic work in this sense. It could be that I understand these terms differently from the way you intended them, or we just value different things in these texts.

The Essential Lotus is a redacted version of the Watson translation of the Lotus Sutra. Pocket-sized.

Reeves does translate dharmas as things when it alludes to things. That's one of the senses of the word "dharma" in this discourse. I don't think he translates it that way in all cases, though, as when it means Dharma the Teaching. Threefold Lotus Sutra translates it as "Law."

I hope this is helpful to you.
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Re: The height of the Treasure tower (Lotus Sutra)

Postby norman » Fri Mar 25, 2011 10:20 pm

Jikan wrote:I don't think I understand the distinction you allude to between the metaphysical on one side and the positivistic on the other; positivism is definitely a metaphysics (in the sense of an ontology), while materialism as I understand it is intended as a critical antidote to metaphysical idealism, which is to say, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism is a rigorously materialistic work in this sense. It could be that I understand these terms differently from the way you intended them, or we just value different things in these texts.


Sorry, let me rephrase what I meant, I was unclear.

Seeing as how our modern world views is fundamentally different from those of the sutras, a translation that sticks close to the original meaning is preferable, so as to not leave any room for misunderstanding. That's what I intended to say.

I think I'll be able to choose a translation now. Thank you for your help.
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Re: The height of the Treasure tower (Lotus Sutra)

Postby Aemilius » Sat Mar 26, 2011 11:34 am

I like the older translation by Kern, it has its merits
Saddharma Pundarika or Lotus of the True Law, H. Kern, 1884

One by Leon Hurvitz has been praised for its language
Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma, Leon Hurvitz ,1976

There is a translation of Lotus Sutra with commentary by Venerable Hsuan Hua. His commentary is helpful, it gives much traditional information about this essential sutra.Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra, CTTB

I've also read the transalation by the name Threefold Lotus Sutra , and Burton Watson's translation.
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