The Lotus Sutra

audiobook (Unabridged) The White Lotus Sutra of the True Dharma

By Hendrik Kern

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The Lotus Sutra is one of the most important Mahayana texts and the most widely read, chanted and revered, particularly in Asian Buddhist countries, notably China and Japan. It is certainly a remarkable document, replete with the Mahayana characteristics of fantastical images, extraordinary appearances, magical happenings, views of time and space which are galactic in size; and pronouncements which are definite, unequivocal, practical in some areas and dependent upon a faith commitment in others.
First and foremost, it proclaims the one yana or vehicle of the Mahayana teaching as pre-eminent, over other teachings, especially those following the paths of the sravakayana (the hearers – the bhikshus) and the pratyekabuddhas (those attaining enlightenment through a solitary path); but also the lay men and lay women. These are the 'four classes of assembly' who, according the Lotus Sutra, have been following the 'preliminary' teachings presented by the Buddha Sakyamuni as an 'expedient' (skilful means). The Lotus Sutra sees the Buddha, teaching from the Gridhrakuta, the Vulture Peak, the full teaching of the Mahayana which leads unerringly (if over aeons in larger numbers than the sands of the Ganges!) to nirvana. Contained within the 27 chapters are many of the principal Buddhist teachings seen in all the schools across the world: the four noble truths, the 12 nidana chain, the six paramitas or perfections; again and again the qualities of mindfulness, diligence, patience and spiritual vigour or energy are propounded – without these, nirvana is not attainable. In short, the path to enlightenment is not for the faint-hearted. Around these core teachings are magical stories of numerous Buddhas from different time eras appearing to support the teaching of Sakyamuni; bodhisattvas appearing from cracks in the ground; the Buddha Prabhutaratna, a Buddha of the far past, appearing in a jewelled stupa; celestial chariots flitting around the sky; and the familiar bodhisattvas of Manjusri, Maitreya, Bhaishajyaraja and many others all have a place in this ultimate cosmic drama.
The Lotus Sutra is an extraordinary vision, far from the more practical, straightforward texts of the Pali Canon. For those not accustomed to extreme Mahayana images it can appear very strange indeed. But for those prepared to go with it, it is remarkably absorbing with a particular charisma and, without belittling it, even charm. Nevertheless, it is a pinnacle of world Buddhist literature. The Lotus Sutra was originally a Sanskrit text, Saddharma Pundarika, which is translated variously – here, it is The White Lotus Sutra of the True Dharma, though it is generally known by its short version. Its popularity in the East is based on a 5th century translation by the respected Chinese translator Kumarajiva, and most of the recent English translations have come from this Chinese source. However, the first Western translations (from a Sanskrit text originating from Nepal) were by Eugène Burnouf into French in the 1852; and then, using the same source, by the Dutch translator Hendrik Kern into English in 1884. It is this Kern translation, largely still accepted as sound, that has provided the basis for this Dharma Audiobooks rendering. We have felt free to modernise the 19th century language, and clarified some of the technical terms, using words more current in 21st century Buddhist circles; also, where Kern – not a practising Buddhist – seems to have been unclear about views or p
The Lotus Sutra