Sunday, December 25, 2005

The Lotus Sutra: Prophecies of Buddhahood and Jofukyo

There are so many good stories in the Lotus Sutra that there are more than we have sessions in Dharma School. While I know the best learning happens when there is one lesson at a time, I didn't want to give up some of those stories. For this lesson in early November I covered the Prophecy of Buddhahood in Chapter 6, and the Bodhisattva Never Disparaging in Chapter 20. In order to find that "one lesson" I pulled threads out of the stories that related to each other and told the girls about the stories. I did not read them verbatim.

In Chapter 6, the Buddha makes prophecies for some of his followers, that they will become Buddhas. Others present wished they also could receive prophecies of Buddhahood, and one by one, the Buddha gave them their prophecies. He says of his followers, "In a future existence all will be able to attain Buddhahood." Two lessons can be emphasized here: that we all have buddha nature, and that we also have that natural wish to be recognized for that potential to become Buddhas.

In Chapter 20, the Buddha tells the story of Bodhisattva Never Disparaging. Burton Watson translates the name as "Never Disparaging" but I have learned a more accurate translation would be "Never Despising". In our Zen sect of Buddhism we do not come across this Bodhisattva, but in the Nichiren Shu sect it is very important. Sadāpoaribhūta (known as Jofukyo in Japanese) is literally translated as 'Always Despised'. There were and are 5 practices accepted as useful: keep, read, recite, copy, and expound. Jofukyo did none of these but instead would simply bow to people. He would say, "I respect you deeply. I do not despise you. Why is that? It is because you will be able to practice the Way of Bodhisattvas and become Buddhas." There were some believers who became angry at this, and despised him. They thought the predictions were vain and irresponsible. What Jofukyo knew that they did not was that we all have the potential to become Buddhas…we all have buddha nature.

Tying these two stories together, I emphasized that we all have the potential to become Buddhas, and that we all have buddha nature. Sometimes people have the response of wishing to hear that prophecy for themselves, and sometimes people have the response of not believing it, maybe even getting angry. It can be very difficult to recognize the buddha nature in others when they are mean to us, but somehow Bodhisattva Never Despising was able to do that. According to the Lotus Sutra, this Bodhisattva became Shakyamuni Buddha, the very Buddha that told this story and had these followers.

Even though I tried to keep it simple, telling of two stories was confusing for some of the girls. On top of that, buddha nature is a concept that defies explanation. Rather it needs to be internalized and grappled with. My lesson was learned here too: that I really must stick to one story, one lesson. I was also intrigued to learn that this Bodhisattva is very important to the Nichiren Shu sect of Buddhism. A motivation for respecting others even when it is difficult is this recognition that they too have buddha nature.

For our activity, we made glass refrigerator magnets. Materials: magnet sheet for printers, glue, glass pebbles (flattened glass 'marbles'), light-colored markers. I collected Buddhist clip art and created a word document of little line art pictures that would be no bigger than the glass discs, and printed that out on the ink jet magnet sheet. The clip art I chose were of monks, of Buddha statues, and lotus flowers, the simpler the better. If I'd had more time I would have found and traced more variety of images…there was a distinct lack of female images in the Buddhist clip art I could find. The glass pebbles I found in an aquarium store, but I imagine they will also be in craft stores (and more expensive). My discs were about an inch in diameter. Since the discs varied slightly in size, I used one of the smaller ones to draw my cutting guide around the clip art, and I cut them out before the class to save time during class.

The girls chose the magnet they wanted, and colored in the lines with markers. Lighter colors that contrasted with the black lines of the clip art helped the picture to be more visible underneath the glass. We used a cotton swab to dab white glue on the picture and glue it to the flat side of the disc. I had more than enough pictures, so once each girl finished their magnet, they could choose some more magnets sans glass pebble. They really gravitated toward the lotus pictures. These magnets were simply for decoration, as the sheet magnet is only strong enough to hold the glass and nothing else.

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