The final feature of the Lotus Sutra we must note, a feature which has been of some influence in East Asian Buddhist practice, is that of body-burning. Chapter 23 of the Lotus Sutra recounts how Bodhisattva Baisajyaraja in a previous life wished to make the most precious offering to the Buddha. He accordingly offered his body by setting fire to it. The body burned for a very long time and he was eventually reborn in a Pure Land: 'Good man, this is called the prime gift'. Supposing someone wishes to become enlightened:
"If he can burn a finger or even a toe as an offering to a Buddha-stupa, he shall exceed one who uses realm or walled city, wife or children, or even all the lands, mountains, forests, rivers, ponds, and sundry precious objects in the whole thousand million-fold world as offerings"
In general in India people were used to the hyperbole of religious enthusiasm and may have taken such exhortations as a rhetorical exaggeration of the imperative to ' be unattached'. Alternatively [...] they may well have seen such exceptionally brave, almost super-human Bodhisattva conduct as something they might be able to do in a future life if they begin now with more accessible practices. Nevertheless Chinese pilgrims to India do apparently describe cases where Buddhists engaged in mortifying the flesh and religious suicide, although further research may be necessary on these problematic texts before their evidence can be relied upon fully. But we know it happened in East Asian Buddhism, where from the early fifth century CE burning joints or the whole body as an act of devotion was taken very seriously indeed. James A. Benn's detailed study (2007a) shows that partial or complete self-immolation has been from quite early days in Chinese Buddhism to the present day by no means a minority or fringe activity
- Williams P, Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations, p.160
all this sounds pretty extreme and not so much the middle way. but i don't want to immediately disparage what i know little of and don't understand. thoughts, views, comments?