Comparison between the Lotus Sutra

and other spiritual scriptures



Among different categories that can be used for comparison between various spiritual scriptures, it is reasonable to suggest that from a purely humanistic perspective, the criteria of peace, security and equality of people - would be the most important. 


This would lead to a focus on how various scriptures target the following domains impacting the life of people:


  1.       peace in society,

  2.       reaction to disputes among people, and

  3.       equality among various classes of society.


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Peace and Non-violence


Viewed from the Lotus Sutra’s contents, the subject of “peace among people” - is indisputably prevalent in all its teachings.  There is not a single mention of any justification for the use of violence in the Lotus Sutra.


In contrast to this strong emphasis on peace and non-violence, other than Lotus spiritual scriptures, are filled with images of violence, wars and atrocities.


Based on the Lotus Sutra, in his landmark writing: “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for Peace of the Land”, Nichiren states


        “If you care anything about your personal security,

        you should first of all pray for order and tranquillity

        throughout the four quarters of the land,

        should you not?”


SGI literature promotes the same principle of correlation between “security” and “freedom of the individual” - and the “progress of the human society”.  Each year, since 1983, SGI president Daisaku Ikeda offers insight into the most challenging problems in the world we live in - in form of  Peace Proposals presented to the United Nations.


The only tool, which Buddhism sees as effective for promoting human rights is “dialogue” among the parties in conflict.  There is not a single verse in the Lotus Sutra that justifies wars, or  subduing other people, or aggression, or occupying other people’s lands etc, verses that can be found in all Abrahamic religions books, and also in various other religious doctrines.


The Lotus Sutra defines the process of “Dialogue” in details in Chapter 10 (Medicine King) as being an exchange “clothed in the three robes of compassion, wisdom and endurance”.   Nichiren elaborates further on the “obligation of the individual” to employ dialogue with sincerity, humility and respect:


        “When in public debate, 

        although the teachings that you advocate are perfectly consistent

        with the truth,

        you should never on that account be impolite or abusive,

        or display a conceited attitude.

        Such conduct would be disgraceful.

        Order your thoughts, words, and actions carefully,

        and be prudent when you meet with others in debate”. 

                                                                                                The Teachings Practice and Proof


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Reaction to disputes among people:

Neither Revenge Nor Forgiveness


The Lotus Sutra deals with the cases in which people can be threatened by those who act with the intention to harm. In civilised societies disputes are settled through applying to the secular “Law”.  According to the Lotus Sutra, the secular law is a form of “the order” which is the general “Law of Life”.  The ultimte action one can take in case of hardships is applying to the Law of Life.


The “Law of Life” presented in the Lotus Sutra is the Law of Cause and Effect (MyohoRengeKyo). Depending on the level of awareness of a given society, its secular law reflects the Law of cause and Effect - but which can be still much deeper.  The secular Law applies at the present actual time, while the Law of Life applies beyond time and space, and it includes future consequences of situation at hand.


Referring to “the Law” - is the essential message of the Lotus Sutra.  It is people’s hope in seeking justice that gives meaning to the legal system and to the authority of the law.


Personal revenge (in order to seek a sort of “balance” to experienced hurt) - is not accepted in the Buddhist system of justice. This is because - regardless of people’s reaction to events, any event gets already recorded within the mental storage of the individual's karma.  Each person carries within him/herself the consequences of past committed actions (good or bad).  Revenge, then, increases the negarive karma one possesses.  It solves nothing, and it ignites a vicious cycle.


No matter what took place - it has been already recorded within the mental storage of the subconsciousness, in the field of karma.  Karma is the metal energy of the essence (or intention) of happenings and what was committed.  The aggressor is already carrying within own life - the relevant effect of displayed aggression  (although we do not see that now, but there is no escape from the Law of Cause and Effect).


Responding to aggression:

How to respond to aggression from others - was metaphorically illustrated in Chapter 25  of the Louts Sutra, (Perceiver of World Sounds).  If one is faced with an aggressive situation, then one should call for justice through the Law of Life, which can ‘perceive people’s sufferings’ and can accordingly - respond. 


The Perceiver of World’s Sounds (Kannon) was depicted in a variety of manifestations as a function of the Law of life a genderless manifestation of Bodhisattva.  If an individual is in a situation of conflict or in dispute with others, then the involved individual should ask for the interference of the “Perceiver of Sounds” - a function, which exists in the universe implying action for justice.


The Sutra also assures that through reporting the extent of hurt one felt to the “function of justice”, the aggressor is sure to meet relevant consequences in the natural way of Cause and Effect . The verses in Chapter 25 of the Sutra list many examples of possibilities of a person being attacked, and instructs one who is attacked or injured to:


        Think on the power of that Perceiver of Sounds,

        and the injury will rebound upon the originator.”  Lotus Sutra, Chapter 25


Revenge and Forgiveness


Buddhism categorically rejects acting with intention to harm (which some call “revenge”).   As for “forgiveness”, Buddhism distinguishes between two categories of events: one minor and personal, the other major and general.

If an event of hurt is minor and personal - such as someone vilifying us, or acting emotionally and inappropriately - then we should exercise flexibility and broadmindedness, and forgive such immaturity, as being a product of ‘small self’.  As Nichiren mentions: “Even should the people on your side make a slight error, pretend not to see or hear it” WND1 p 839

It is wise to dissolve tension and not be affected by other’s mean actions.

However, the situation is dramatically different if the hurt done is a major and general in nature.  For example, if someone commits a crime, we do not have an authority to “forgive”.  If an arsonist for example burns someone’s house out of jealousy or other motives, then even if the affected person may “forgive” - the police would not.   Such actions (and others like murder and inflicting damage) - are not personal matters, but involve the Law of Life, and hence cannot be forgiven.


Revenge: The Law of Revenge is apparent in article 196 of the Code of Hammurabi, literally: An eye for an eye”, a doctrine about “justice” as perceived in the tribal environment, which dominated the Middle East thousands of years ago.  This way of viewing conflict is completely different from the Lotus Sutra’s teachings of transforming conflicts into enlightenment of both paries in conflict (tribes in war) - who share the common dispute through their karmic history of causes (which led to conflict).

A remarkable judgement on the Law of revenge, was given by Mahatma Gandhi in his famous statement: “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.

The Lotus Sutra neither advocates submissiveness (turning of the cheek) - nor responding with revenge (an eye for an eye).  Forgiveness for committed crimes violates the essence of justice and the concept of Cause and Effect, and is an encouragement for repetition of acts motivated by arrogance and aggression.  Buddhism is about subduing evil, and not making concessions .

Forgiveness: Forgiveness inwardly carries the notion of having been a victim.   The victim spirit, however, should be correctly viewed from the perspective of the law of causes and effect. 

Whether willingly or unwillingly, in any situation in which we are hurt  -  we have also shared in that situation.  We have painfully shared in its occurrence.  Although others may be aggressive, we are nonetheless inwardly equipped with some strength of defence.  If we were stronger than the aggressor, then the situation would have been different.  For this reason one should take responsibility to strengthen oneself, so that the possibility of a similar future hurt would not repeat - in the same time applying to the secular law - which is also a manifestation of the Law of Life.


One should take the aggressor to the “Perceiver of Sounds”.  It is like that the ‘case of dispute’ has being referred to the highest authority in life’s ‘system of justice’, which is unrestricted by time or space, and operates within reality, the realm of the Law of Cause and Effect.

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Equality among all Human Beings


The Lotus Sutra’s fundamental teaching is the equality of all people in being capable of revealing their highest dignified state of life (Buddhnature) in their current circumstances.  It abolished all categories of discrimination prevalent in society.

This supremely humanistic perspective is in sharp contrast with systems of beliefs which allowed for slavery - which was accepted as a normal practice in society, with no religious commandment to ban it.


  Slavery promoted by Religions of East and West


The oldest known document for specifying rules of social relations is the Law Code of Ur of the Middle East (around 2000 BC).  Among the various components of that law, slavery of men and women was not only accepted as a normal practice in society - but it was regulated in details by the articles of the mentioned code:


  1. -Article 4 : about a slave marrying a slave,

  2. -Article 5: on removing child of a slave mother, and

  3. -Articles 17 and 25 on reward and punishment (concerning slaves).


Another set of recorded laws (1780 BC), known as the “Code of Hammurabi” shows a similar level of social treatment and tribal relationships of that time (almost 4000 years ago) . In essence, slavery was “justified” by the idea that a slave has a value for the owner - but does not have an inherent value or worth for him or herself.  All religious beliefs in Abrahamic religions accepted slavery of human beings as “business as usual”. .


Abrahamic religions did not overturn the tribal local laws allowing slavery, which were the laws of previous pagan religions - and considered slavery as a fact of people’s life.  For this reason, slavery was regarded as a normal component in the construct of human society for thousands of years, fully permitted by influential religious authorities.


The situation was not better in Asian societies.  In Hinduism, slavery was replaced by the ‘caste system’, based on discrimination.  As for Buddhism, its early spread was limited mainly to temples with isolated monks, removed from engagement in the affairs of life of society, which experienced injustice, discrimination and enslavement.


While monks enjoyed peaceful environment in their retreats, the daily affairs of ordinary people living in society were that of great sufferings, living under oppression and threats from various authorities.  The term ‘household person’ in 17th century China, meant simply a slave, a widely accepted reality at the time.  This fact of social oppression, however, did not meet any interest from the Buddhist monks to stand against that state of social inequality. 


The only recorded Buddhist priest, who took action and confronted the ruling authorities of his society (raising the alarm about the miserable and dangerous situation in the life of ordinary people) - was Nichiren, (1222-1282)  - and whose teachings were based on the Lotus Sutra.


Nichiren even prided himself as having a ‘lowly social status’, being a “son of a chandala family - (chandala: a term referring to the lowest group in the Indian class system). 


As an ordinary individual, Nichiren aimed at giving the actual proof of endorsing the human right all people (to attain the highest state of enlightenment).


Abolishing Slavery by Secular Law


The first legal action to outlaw slavery was a decision of “English Court of King’s Bench” (year 1772) a decision which specified the Positive Law - or the law made by human beings - as the only reasonable ground for regarding slavery as unlawful.


In a further step, the British Parliament - a secular authority - formally abolished slavery (1833).  It is obvious that condemning slavery as unlawful or inhumane could originate only from a secular law (or a law made by human beings) - not by religious authorities, which fully accepted slavery as a social status.


The teachings of the Lotus Sutra, however, abolish all kinds of discrimination among people, and regards all individuals as equally-having the Buddhanature, the state leading to equality of all people, to ultimate freedom , dignity and joy:


        “At the start, I pledged to make all people perfectly equal to me

        without any distinction between us”.   Chapter 2, Lotus Sutra

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Author: Safwan Darshams     

                 

The Lotus Sutra’a Unique Teachings on Attaining Enlightenment


The Revolutionary Teachings of the Lotus Sutra


The Value of the Individual in the Lotus Sutra


Lotus Buddhism and Human Rights



Frequently Asked Questions


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