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The Drama of Cosmic Enlightenment

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by Sangharakshita

Lecture 96: The Drama of Cosmic Enlightenment

We are all human beings. And as human beings our main concern, our main function if you like, is to grow as human beings, to develop, to evolve. And that means sooner or later in one form or another following what is usually called a spiritual path or, in the terminology that we have been using more recently, pursuing the path of the Higher Evolution of Man. In the course of the last few years, in discussing this process, this process of growth, development, Higher Evolution, we've operated, as it were, with the help of three main concepts. First of all there's the concept of a state of unconsciousness or unawareness; secondly a state of self-consciousness or awareness, or if you like of individuality, or true individuality; and thirdly and lastly there's the concept of what we may describe, very provisionally and inadequately, as the state of universal consciousness, or Buddhahood. And the Higher Evolution itself consists, as we have seen, on a number of occasions and from various points of view, consists in the whole overall process of development from the state of unconsciousness through self consciousness to universal consciousness or if you like from unawareness through awareness, through individuality, up to Buddhahood itself. And as I mentioned last week, we shall soon have to start operating with the help of a fourth concept, a concept which we haven't so far introduced into our consideration of the Higher Evolution. And that is the concept of what Jung calls - again a provisional term - The Collective Unconscious. And when we speak of the collective unconscious we include what Jung also calls the archetypes of the collective unconscious - the shadow, the anima or animus, the wise old man, the young hero, and so on. And sometime we shall have to try to understand what part they also play in the process of the Higher Evolution. But this is something we shall have to do later on, maybe next winter.

Meanwhile, we're going to start moving in that direction. We're going to start familiarizing ourselves with, as it were, archetypal material in general. And we're going to study therefore in our present series of lectures the parables, the myths, and the symbols of the White Lotus Sutra.

Now the White Lotus Sutra is a Mahayana sutra, that is to say a Mahayana scripture. So last week, in the course of the first lecture in the series, we had something to say about the Mahayana, especially about the universal perspective of the Mahayana. And we saw that the word Mahayana itself, which is a Sanskrit word, means simply the 'Great Way', and that it constitutes, in historical terms, the second of the three great stages of the development of Buddhism in India. We were especially concerned to point out last week that whereas all forms of Buddhism are in principle universal, Buddhism itself being a universal teaching, the Mahayana, the Great Way, is more effectively universal, more universal in practice, than the Hinayana, or the Little Way. We saw last week that this was because the Mahayana stressed in its teaching, in its practice, in its spiritual life, both Wisdom and Compassion. And we saw that in so doing it followed faithfully the example of the Buddha himself. We saw that after his Enlightenment, after his own awakening to the Truth, to the ultimate Reality of things, the Buddha did not remain, as it were, silent, he did not sit still, he did not wait for people to come to him. The Buddha went out to them; he went forth to communicate the truth that he had discovered to other human beings, went forth out of compassion.

So the Mahayana is just like this; it follows the example of the Buddha. It does not wait for people to come to it. It goes out to them. And it goes out in many different ways, in many different forms. We saw that even in ordinary linguistic terms the Mahayana goes out to people.

The Mahayana doesn't expect people of different countries to learn its language in the literal sense, the language of its scriptures. It speaks their languages, it translates its scriptures into their languages, into Tibetan, into Chinese, into Mongolian, into Japanese, and so on. And not only does it speak many different languages literally, but it speaks many different languages metaphorically too. There are two great languages that humanity uses, that the Buddha himself used, and we find the Mahayana using, communicating in, both of them. It communicates in the language of concepts, through its intellectual teaching, its philosophy; and it also communicates in terms of images. In the first language, the language of concepts, it addresses, we may say, the head. And in the second language, with the help of the second language, the language of images, it addresses the heart, even the unconscious. So we see that the Mahayana, like the Buddha himself, employs on occasion these two great languages, these two great means of communication - the concept and the image, or the idea and the image. And in this way it reaches, it is able to communicate with, a very large number of beings.

Now this week we are concerned with the White Lotus Sutra itself. As we saw last week, this is one of the most important of all the Mahayana sutras. There are many hundreds of Mahayana sutras. About a dozen or fifteen of them are of the greatest importance, and the White Lotus is perhaps one of the two or three most important of all. And when we turn to the White Lotus, we find that it differs very considerably from most even of the other Mahayana sutras. We find some Mahayana sutras speaking the language of concepts almost exclusively. We find others speaking the language of concepts and the language of images. But when we turn to the White Lotus Sutra, we find that it speaks, as it were, the language of images almost exclusively. It contains parables, myths, symbols, but very very little in the way of conceptual exposition of the Dharma, very very little of what can be recognised as teaching in the ordinary sense of the term.

Now tonight we're concerned with the White Lotus Sutra as a whole. And, as the title of tonight's lecture tells us, we're concerned with it in a particular way, in a particular form. We're concerned with it not just as a text or a document, much less still a teaching - we're concerned with it as nothing less than the Drama of Cosmic Enlightenment. From next week we shall be dealing with the significance of individual parables, myths, and symbols contained in the sutra. But tonight we are still at the introductory stage. Tonight we're still trying to see the wood as a whole, rather than stopping to look at individual trees.

Now in the original Sanskrit the title of the White Lotus Sutra is Saddharma Pundarika Sutra.

'Saddharma' is usually translated as 'Good Law', or 'Good Doctrine', and it refers to the Buddha's teaching. But this translation isn't really very adequate. 'Sat' or 'sad' is derived from a Sanskrit root meaning 'to exist', and it therefore means something more like 'true' or 'real', or 'genuine' or 'authentic'. And in the same way 'dharma' is not just 'doctrine' or 'teaching', as we usually translate the word; it's more like 'truth', it's more like, even, 'the ultimate nature of things'. So 'Saddharma', as well as the Pali equivalent 'Saddhamma', is best translated as 'the real truth' - this is what the term essentially means. And some of you may remember that in my translation of the Dhammapada where the word often occurs in its Pali form Saddhamma, there also I've rendered it as 'the real truth'.

Now what does 'Pundarika' mean? 'Pundarika' means 'the white lotus'. In English we've got just one word for lotuses in general, but in the Sanskrit they've got a separate term, a separate word, for different lotuses of different colour. So 'Pundarika' is the white lotus. And obviously here the white lotus is a symbol of purity. I'll have something to say about the symbol of the lotus in general when we come to lecture seven, entitled 'The Jewel in the Lotus'. But meanwhile just one or two words. We know, I'm sure, that the lotus generally grows in ponds, generally grows, in fact, in the mud, or out of the mud. But according to Indian tradition and symbolism, though it grows in the mud and out of the mud, the lotus, the lotus flower, is never touched by the mud, it is never stained. So in this way it becomes a symbol of purity, it becomes a symbol of the presence of the Unconditioned in the midst of the conditioned, or if you like a symbol of the spiritual in the midst of the worldly, the Transcendental or the Unconditioned or the spiritual not being touched, not being smirched, by that in the midst of which it appears. So by describing the real truth, the Buddha's teaching that is to say, as being like a white lotus, it is suggested that that teaching, that real truth, though it appears in the world, is not affected, not tainted, by any worldly considerations.

And what about the word 'sutra'? This is the most common term for a Buddhist scripture. When we say 'the Sutras', we mean 'the scriptures', just like a Christian might say 'the Bible'. The word 'sutra' itself is from a word meaning 'a thread', and it suggests a number of topics as it were strung together on a common thread of discourse. Now the body of a sutra, the body of a scripture in this sense of the term, usually consists of an exposition of the Dharma, of the teaching, of the real truth, by the Buddha himself. And it's almost always preceded by an account of the circumstances in which, or under which, the discourse was delivered, and it concludes with an account of the effect produced on the auditors by the delivery of the discourse. Sometimes, however, the Buddha himself remains in the background. He's there, but he doesn't actually speak. A disciple speaks, and at the end of the discourse the Buddha gives ...

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