Monday, October 03, 2005

Lotus Sutra: The Illuminating Light

I used The Illuminating Light of The Lotus Sutra as an introduction to the year's lessons. I am using the Burton Watson translation, and that happens to be the translation I've found on the web. While we were all gathered for the morning songs, I realized that This Little Light of Mine (link is not the exact version) would provide the perfect lead-in to this story. This turned out to be a great song to sing early, because many of the newcomers to Dharma School were unsure about the Buddhist songs. This one they could sing heartily.

I am teaching the grade school girls, and our first lesson was very busy as I needed to explain each segment of our time together.

First, we always "create a zendo space." The girls will find the pieces we need for the altar and put that together, and arrange cushions around the room for meditation. They will share and take turns lighting the incense, keeping time, and snuffing the candle afterward. I told them we would sit for five minutes, and I would keep track this time. When I gave them only three, several knew it!

after we changed the zendo space back into the library, I explained that I would always give a quick introduction to the day's lesson, and then we would do a check-in. The check-in, I explained, was their chance to say their name and something about themselves. It could be something about how they're feeling, or something they'd like us all to know about themselves. They could also use this time to bring up a question they have about something they've learned in Dharma School, or about the introduction I've given.

I told them that this year we would be learning from the Lotus Sutra, that this is a lesson said to be given by the Buddha for us all to learn how to be bodhisattvas. Several of the returning girls were excited to recognize that they remembered Bodhisattvas from last year. When the Buddha was about to teach this sutra, a beam of light came from his forehead and illuminated everybody, like the song "This Little Light of Mine."

After check-in, the day's lesson. Once upon a time, a long time ago, the Buddha was going to give a teaching in a park, because that's what he often did. All kinds of people gathered, and bodhisattvas, eighty thousand of them! The Buddha's mother came, Mahaprajapati. You see, when the Buddha left on his quest to understand things, he left his family behind. But when he became the Buddha, the awakened one, his family decided to follow him. So his mother was there, and she had many followers. He'd also been married, and had a son before he left. His wife, Yashodhara, she was also there, and she had many followers with her.

Among those many bodhisattvas, some were named. Of course, Manjushri was there, you remember Manjushri. He is the Bodhisattva of ......wisdom. And Maitreya was there....he's the Buddha of the future. And you already mentioned the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Who's that? ....Kanzeon....Avelokiteshvara. She's also known as the Perceiver of the World's Sounds.

(I showed them and passed around some images I'd found of the Buddha with the bodhisattvas and other followers gathered around.)

There were also many other beings there. Animals, and mythic creatures. Some of them might be similar to mythic creatures you already know about. There were the gandharvas. These creatures were part horse and part human. Yeah, kind of like a centaur. They were known for making beautiful music.

There were also these creatures called garudas, part bird part human. This bird could travel from one end of the universe to the other with a single flap of its wings. Oh, and here's a picture of an asura king. There were dragon kings there too. All kinds of creatures.

So all these beings were gathered to learn from the Buddha, when the Buddha gave out this illuminating light from a spot between his eyes on his forehead. The Bodhisattva Maitreya wondered what this meant, so he went to ask Manjushri to see if he, (or she, because bodhisattvas can be he's or she's you know) to see if Manjushri knew. Because of course, Manjushri's the Bodhisattva of Wisdom.

And Manjushri said it was probably because the Buddha is about to give this great teaching. And that teaching turned out to be the Lotus Sutra. I think the Buddha was illuminating the buddha nature of everyone, and he could do this because he was a buddha. He was showing the buddha nature of all these beings, the mythic creatures, the people, the bodhisattvas. He was showing what was already there, but he was just making it visible. And I think that it's because we all have buddha nature that he could make it visible.

At least one girl asked, "Are we going to draw?" Indeed we were. I told them we were going to draw whatever beings we might like to that could have been at this gathering. It could be the mythic creatures, any of the bodhisattvas, the Buddha, people, animals. I included a cat because I have a cat. This with a white or very light crayon. Now, the drawing didn't need to be perfect, in fact often it's in the mistakes that bodhisattvas are revealed. It will be hard to see, but you can hold it up to the light if you need to. Press hard with the crayon. Then, use the watercolor to splash paint over your crayon drawing, and then your picture will be revealed. Showing them my nearly completed example, I demonstrated painting over it with watercolor. We discovered together that adding more water could help the drawing show up better, and it is possible to use crayon after it is wet, but it is better to press hard with the crayon before applying the watercolor.

2005 1003 illuminating light

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