The Lotus Sutra

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The Lotus Sūtra (Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra) is one of the most popular and influential Mahāyāna sūtras, and is known for its extensive instruction on the concept and usage of skillful means (upāya), the seventh paramita or "perfection of a Bodhisattva". The ultimate teaching of the sutra is implied to the reader that "full Buddhahoo...

anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi: Complete, perfect enlightenment.

apasmāraka: A class of demonic beings.

arhat (“one who is worthy”): A saint who has completely eradicated the passions and attained liberation from the cycle of birth and death (samsara); arhatship is the highest of the four stages of spiritual attainment in the Hinayana. Capitalized, the term is an epithet for a buddha. See also birth and death; Hinayana.

asura: A class of supernatural beings that are in constant conflict with the gods (devas). See also deva.

Avalokiteśvara: The name of a great bodhisattva who represents great compassion. Bhagavat (“Blessed One”): A venerable teacher; an epithet of a buddha.

birth and death (samsara): The cycle of existence, the continuous round of birth and death through which beings transmigrate; the world of suffering, contrasted with the bliss of nirvana. See also nirvana; sahā world; triple world.

bodhisattva (“enlightenment being”): The spiritual ideal of the Mahayana, a selfless being with universal compassion who has generated the profound aspiration to achieve enlightenment in order to benefit sentient beings. In the course of their spiritual careers, bodhisattvas engage in the practice of the six perfections and pass through stages of increasingly higher levels of spiritual accomplishment. See also Mahayana; six perfections.

bodhi tree: The tree under which a buddha attains enlightenment. buddhahood: The state of becoming or being a buddha; the goal of the bodhisattva path. buddha land: A cosmic world or realm in which a particular buddha dwells.

Brahma: Lord of the sahā world. See also sahā world.

brahman: The priestly caste in the Indian caste system; in the Lotus Sutra the term also applies to a class of heavenly beings.

Decadent Dharma: The last of the three ages of the Dharma, following the age of the Semblance Dharma, in which only the teaching of the Buddha exists but correct practice is no longer possible. See also Semblance Dharma; True Dharma.

dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda): The Buddhist doctrine which holds that all phenomena (dharmas) arise in relation to causes and conditions and in turn are the causes and conditions for the arising of other phenomena. Nothing exists independently of its causes and conditions. See also dharma.

deva: A class of supernatural beings; a god or divine being.

Devadatta (“God-given”): A cousin of the Buddha who became his disciple but later tried to murder him and assume leadership of the sangha.

dhāraṇī: A powerful verbal incantation or mantra.

dharma: Any phenomenon, thing, or element; the elements that make up the perceived phenomenal world.

Dharma: The truth, law; the teachings of the Buddha. See also Decadent Dharma; Semblance Dharma; True Dharma.

Dharma body (dharmakāya): The manifestation of the Buddha as ultimate reality.

emptiness (śūnyatā): The absence of substantiality or inherent existence of the self and all phenomena (dharmas); all dharmas arise only through the dependent origination of causes and conditions (prat ītya samutpāda). Direct insight into emptiness is the attainment of prajñā (transcendental wisdom). See also dependent origination; dharma; prajñā.

five skandhas: The five elements of form, feeling, conception, mental process, and consciousness which comprise the personality and give rise to the mistaken view of a permanent, inherent self.

four modes of birth: According to Buddhism, the four possible ways that a being may be born, i.e., 1) from a womb, 2) from an egg, 3) from moisture, or 4) through metamorphosis or spontaneous generation.

Four Noble Truths: The basic doctrine of Buddhism: 1) the truth of suffering, 2) the truth regarding the cause of suffering, 3) the truth regarding the extinction of suffering, and 4) the truth regarding the path to nirvana. gandharva: A heavenly musician. garuḍa: A mythological being in the form of a giant bird.

Hinayana (“Lesser Vehicle”): A derogatory term applied by Mahayana Buddhists to early schools of Buddhism whose primary soteriological aim is individual salvation. Hinayana followers are grouped into the two categories of śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas and there are four stages of spiritual attainment, culminating in arhatship. See also arhat; Mahayana; non-returner; once-returner; pratyekabuddha; śrāvaka; stream-enterer.

Jambudvīpa: A mythological continent, one of the four continents that surround Mount Sumeru; the world of human beings. See also Mount Sumeru.

kalpa: An eon, an immensely long period of time.

karma (“action”): Any action of body, speech, or mind (thought), which may be either morally good, bad, or neutral. The concept of karma is connected with the Buddhist theory of transmigration in the cycle of birth and death. See also birth and death.

kiṃnara: A class of mythological beings, half bird and half human, that make celestial music.

koṭi: A large unit of measurement, said to equal ten million. kṛtya: A class of evil beings, sorcerers.

kṣatriya: The warrior caste in the Indian caste system; the politically governing or military. kumbhāṇḍa: A class of demonic beings. lion’s roar: A metaphor for great eloquence in teaching the Dharma.

Mahayana: (“Great Vehicle”): A form of Buddhism that developed in India around 100 B.C.E. and which exalts as its religious ideal the bodhisattva, great beings who aspire to enlightenment on behalf of all sentient beings. See also bodhisattva.

mahoraga: A class of snake-like mythical beings.

Maitreya: The future Buddha, currently still a bodhisattva. See also bodhisattva.

Mañjuśrī: The bodhisattva who represents great wisdom. See also bodhisattva. manuṣyakṛtya: A class of human sorcerers. See also kṛtya; yakṣakṛtya.

Māra: The Evil One, the personification of death. The lower-case term māra refers to the afflictions that hinder progress on the path to buddhahood.

Mount Sumeru: In Buddhist cosmology, the highest mountain rising from the center of the world, surrounded by an ocean in which the four continents that comprise the world of human beings are situated.

nayuta: A large unit of numerical measurement, said to be equal to ten million or one hundred billion.

nirvana: Liberation from the cycle of birth and death, a state in which all passions are extinguished and the highest wisdom (prajñā) attained; bodhi, enlightenment. See also birth and death; prajñā.

non-returner (anāgāmin): The third of the four stages of spiritual attainment in the Hinayana; one who has attained this stage is no longer subject to rebirth in the realm of desire. See also Hinayana; triple world.

once-returner (sakṛdāgāmin): The second of the four stages of spiritual attainment in the Hinayana; one who has attained this state is subject to rebirth only once in each of the three realms of the triple world before attaining nirvana. See also Hinayana; nirvana; triple world.

parinirvāṇa: Complete nirvana See also nirvana.

prajñā: Transcendental, liberative wisdom; one of the six perfections. See also six perfections.

pratyekabuddha (“solitary enlightened one”): One of the two kinds of Hinayana followers, along with śrāvakas, who seek to reach the stage of arhat and attain nirvana. A pratyekabuddha attains liberation through direct observation and understanding of the principle of dependent origination without the guidance of a teacher, and does not teach others. See also arhat; dependent origination; Hinayana; nirvana; śrāvaka.

piśāca: A class of demonic beings. pūtana: A class of demonic beings that cause disease in children. rākṣasa: A type of demon. The female form is rākṣasī. sahā world: The world of endurance, suffering.

Śakra: Lord of the devas. See also deva.

Śākyamuni (“Sage of the Śākyas”): The historical Buddha, who lived in India in the fifth century B.C.E. and whose life and teachings form the basis for Buddhism.

Śākyas: The name of the historical Buddha Śākyamuni’s family clan.

samādhi: Mental concentration; a meditative state. sangha: The Buddhist order, the community of Buddhist followers.

Semblance Dharma: The second of the three ages of the Buddhist Dharma, following the age of the True Dharma, in which the Buddha’s teaching is practiced but enlightenment is no longer possible. See also Decadent Dharma; True Dharma.

sense faculties: The sense perceptions that correspond to the six sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind)—visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile, and mental perceptions.

single vehicle (ekayāna): The one buddha vehicle, the Mahayana teaching espoused in the Lotus Sutra that leads to complete enlightenment and attainment of buddhahood, contrasted with the teachings of the two Hinayana vehicles. The single vehicle includes and transcends all three vehicles of the śrāvaka, pratyeka buddha, and bodhisattva paths. See also three vehicles; two vehicles.

six perfections (parāmitās): Six qualities perfected by bodhisattvas—1) giving (dāna), 2) integrity or good conduct (śīla), 3) perseverance (kṣānti), 4) diligence or effort (vīrya), 5) meditation (dhyāna), and 6) wisdom (prajñā). See also bodhisattva; prajñā. skillful means (upāya): The various methods and means used by buddhas and bodhisattvas to guide and teach sentient beings, adapted to their different capacities.

śramaṇa: Mendicant, monk; a Buddhist monk, originally applied to those who maintained an ascetic practice.

śrāmaṇera: A novice in the Buddhist sangha.

śrāvaka (“auditor”): Originally, a disciple of the Buddha, one of those who heard him expound the teachings directly; later, the term came to refer to one of the two kinds of Hinayana followers, along with pratyekabuddhas, to distinguish them from followers of the Mahayana. See also Hinayana; Mahayana; pratyekabuddha.

stream-enterer (srota-āpanna): The first of the four stages of spiritual attainment in the Hinayana; one who has entered the stream of the Dharma by destroying various wrong views. See also Hinayana.

stupa: A tope; a structure in which the relics of a buddha are placed. Sugata (“Well-gone”): An epithet for a buddha; one who has attained bliss. sutra: A Buddhist scripture, a discourse of the Buddha.

Tathāgata: An epithet for a buddha. It means “one who has gone to (gata) and come from (āgata) the truth of suchness (tathā),” i.e., “one who embodies the truth of suchness.”

three vehicles: The paths of the śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas, respectively. See also bodhisattva; pratyekabuddha; śrāvaka.

triple world: The three realms of samsaric existence in which living beings transmigrate as a result of their karma: 1) the realm of desire (kāma dhātu), i.e., the world of ordinary consciousness accompanied by desires; the realm of form (rūpadhātu), in which desires have been eliminated but the physical body remains; and the formless realm (ārūpya dhātu), in which the physical body no longer exists.

True Dharma: The first of the three ages of the Buddhist Dharma, in which the Buddhist teaching is properly practiced and enlightenment can be attained. See also Decadent Dharma; Semblance Dharma. two vehicles: The two Hinayana paths of śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas. See also Hinayana; pratyekabuddha; śrāvaka.

universal monarch (cakravartin): The ideal king, as conceived of in Indian philosophy.

yakṣa: A class of demonic beings.

yakṣakṛtya: A class of demonic sorcerers. See also kṛtya.

yojana: An Indian unit of distance, roughly equivalent to seven to nine miles, based on the distance the royal army could march in one day.

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