Religion 21st Century

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  • Mahayana Sutras

    There are thousands of Buddhist texts, originally written in Pali or Sanskrit. The Pali Suttas are associated with Theravadin schools of Buddhism. The Sanskrit sutras are associated with Mahayana schools of Buddhism. The format is often a teaching session in the forest where the Buddha received aspirants who asked and he answered questions

    Mahayana Sutras are different from Pali sutras. Some sutras are infused with the colorful hyperbole of the Indian imagination. An array of supernatural events, sometimes on a cosmic scale, is intended to seduce the audience to joining the Sangha and reassures devotees that everything is possible if they continue their practice. Many years ago, when the Tibetan Karmapa visited Vancouver, I attended a Bodhisattva initiation ceremony and he placed a red string around my neck that signaled my new status. The task of the Bodhisattva is to seek liberation attempting to escape from the ignorance that obscures the radiance of a clear, untroubled mind. Liberation develops compassion in the service of fellow sentient beings. The Vajra Prajna Paramita (Diamond) Sutra stands apart as a grounded and specific version of the Buddha's teachings. Here is a sample of the Sutra:

    “At that time the Elder Subhuti arose from his seat in the great assembly, uncovered his right shoulder, placed his right knee on the ground, joined his palms together respectfully and addressed the Buddha, "How rare, World Honored One, is the Thus Come One who protects and cares for all Bodhisattvas and favors all Bodhisattvas. World Honored One, if a good man or good woman resolves his mind on Anuttarasamyaksambodhi, on what should he rely? How should he subdue his mind?" The Buddha said, "Very good, very good Subhuti. It is as you say. The Thus Come One protects and cares for all Bodhisattvas and favors all Bodhisattvas. Now listen attentively; I shall tell you. A good man or good woman who resolves his mind on Anuttarasamyaksambodhi should thus rely and thus subdue his mind." "Yes indeed, World Honored One. I am delighted and wish to listen."

    The Buddha told Subhuti,"All Bodhisattvas, Mahasattvas, should subdue their minds thus: 'I must cause all living beings--those born from eggs, wombs, moisture, by transformation; those with form, those without form, those with thought, those without thought, those not totally endowed with thought, and those not totally without thought--to enter Nirvanawithout residue and be taken across to Cessation. Yet of the immeasurable, numberless, boundless numbers of living beings thus taken across to Cessation, there is actually no living being taken across to Cessation.' Why? Subhuti, if a Bodhisattva has an appearance of self, others, living beings, or a life, he is not a Bodhisattva."

    “Moreover, Subhuti, as to dharmas, a Bodhisattva should not rely on anything when giving. That is to say, when giving, he should neither rely on forms, nor sounds, smells, tastes, tangible objects or dharmas. Subhuti, a Bodhisattva should give thus: he should not rely on appearances. Why? If a Bodhisattva does not rely on appearances when giving, his blessings and virtues are inconceivable and immeasurable. "Subhuti, what do you think, is space in the east conceivable or measurable?" "No World Honored One." "Subhuti, is space in the south, west, north, or in the intermediate directions, above or below conceivable or measurable?" "No, World Honored One." "Subhuti, the blessings and virtues of a Bodhisattva who does not rely on appearances when giving, are just as inconceivable and immeasurable. Subhuti, a Bodhisattva should rely only on the teachings."

    "Subhuti, what do you think, is it possible to see the Thus Come One in his physical appearances?" "No World Honored One, it is not possible to see Thus Come One in his physical appearances. Why? Because the physical appearances mentioned by the Thus Come One are not physical appearances." The Buddha said to Subhuti, "All appearances are empty and false. If one sees all appearances as no appearances, then one sees the Thus Come One."

    Subhuti addressed the Buddha, "World Honored One, in the future will there be living beings who truly believe upon hearing such phrases?" The Buddha told Subhuti, "Do not say that! In the last five hundred years after the Thus Come One's Cessation, there will be those who, holding the moral precepts and cultivating blessings, will believe such phrases and accept them as true. You should know that such people have not planted good roots with just one Buddha, two Buddhas, three Buddhas, four, or five Buddhas, but they have planted good roots at the places of immeasurable tens of millions of Buddhas. The Thus Come One knows and sees all people who hear these phrases, Subhuti, and have even a single thought of pure faith. Such living beings will thus obtain immeasurable blessings and virtues. Why? Because those living beings no longer cling to the appearances of self, others, living beings, or a life, nor to the appearances of dharmasor non-dharmas. Why? If those living beings' minds cling to appearances, that would be attachment to a self, others, living beings and a life. If they cling to appearances of dharmas, that would be attachment to a self, others, living beings and a life. Why? If they cling to the appearances of non-dharmas, that would be attachment to a self, others, living beings and a life. Therefore, you should not cling to dharmas; you should not cling to non-dharmas. Because of this principle the Thus Come One always says, 'Bhikshus, you should all know that the Dharma I speak is like a raft. You must let go of dharmas. Even more so let go of non-dharmas.'"

    "Subhuti, what do you think, did the Thus Come One attain Anuttarasamyaksambodhi? Did the Thus Come One speak any Dharma?" Subhuti answered, "As I understand what the Buddha has said, there is no predetermined Dharma called Anuttarasamyaksambodhi, and there are not any predetermined Dharmas which the Thus Come One could speak. Why? All the Dharma which the Thus Come One has spoken can neither be clung to nor spoken of. It is neither Dharma nor non-dharma. Why is that so? All Worthy Ones and Sages are different because of Unconditioned Dharmas."

    To understand the Diamond Sutra, it is necessary to accept dialectics and oxymoron as the way of the way of truth.


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    The author is Stephen Gislason

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