Educational Views in the Lotus Sutra
On April 19, 2009, Venerable Chang Hwa, Director of CMC, gave a talk entitled "Educational Views in the Lotus Sutra".
According to Venerable, the purpose of the Buddha's teachings is to guide all sentient beings to enter the bodhisattva path and become Buddhas.
Unlike Confucius, who was a contemporary of the Buddha and taught, for the purpose of creating a fair government, both rich and poor but neglected to teach females, the Buddha taught various beings—including arhats, pratyekabuddhas, monks, nuns, heavenly beings, Brahmins, and beings in the desire and form realms, in order that they may become Buddhas.
The Buddha, the greatest educator and still guiding master, spent 49 years spreading the Dharma, the last 8 years of which were on the Lotus Sutra. Because the Lotus Sutra summarizes the Buddha’s 49 years of expounding the Dharma, it is known as the king of sutras.
The chapter on “Expedient Means” explains the importance of causes and conditions for the Buddha to share knowledge so that sentient beings will gain and benefit from the Lotus Sutra.
In the chapter, "Simile and Parable", the Buddha tells the story of "The Three Carts and the Burning House" to explain the use of expedient means to help the three types of learners—the voice-hearer, pratyekabuddha and the Buddha enter the path towards Buddhahood, which is through the bodhisattva path.
There are two main principles in the Buddha’s teachings:
All beings are equal, including men, women, animals, and beings in the heavenly and hell realms.
All beings have Buddha nature and will become Buddhas, as long as we have faith and belief in ourselves.
In the chapter on "The Parable of the Medicinal Herbs" [for details, see article “Lotus Sutra 5 of 8”], the rain is the Dharma and the plants that receive the rain represent sentient beings receiving the Dharma regardless of their sizes and stature. In the chapter "Devadatta", the cousin of the Buddha attempts to take the life of the Buddha and gives the Buddha all sorts of difficulties.
The Buddha states that even Devadatta, his worst enemy, will become a Buddha. The Buddha says the same about the dragon girl and all sentient beings. "The Parable of the Gem in the Jacket" [for details, see article "Lotus Sutra 8 of 8"], which is about a gem sewn inside the coat of the poor man, is a metaphor for the Buddha-nature that is already within us.
The chapter on "The Universal Gateway of the Bodhisattva Perceiver of the World's Sounds" teaches that the content of teachings must be in accordance with the audience. Because there are numerous kinds of sentient beings, the teacher must have different kinds of expedient means that are appropriate to the different types of sentient beings.
"The Parable of the Wealthy Man and the Poor Son" [for details, see article "Lotus Sutra 8 of 8"] illustrates how the Buddha uses all kinds of expedient means to teach the Dharma to sentient beings, depending on their levels of practice. Thus, the Dharma is tailored to the audience based on who the audience is, the audience’s level of understanding, and the needs of the audience.
Faith and belief that we will become Buddhas is crucial. This strong faith and belief is demonstrated in the story of Master Sun-dried Candle who laid out candles to dry under the sun and unwittingly melted them.
Because he did a very stupid thing, people tricked him into going to another temple, saying that he can become a great Dharma teacher. Eventually, Master Sun-dried Candle became a great Dharma teacher because he truly believed and had great faith.
Perhaps the most profound secret in the Lotus Sutra is that the Buddhadharma transcends time and space, that the Buddha has been Buddhas many eons and kalpas ago, and that the earthly life of the Buddha is just an expedient means for teaching sentient beings the path to Buddhahood.