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The Jewel in the Lotus

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by Sangharakshita

... we may describe as these archetypal forms, forms of Buddhas, forms of Bodhisattvas, forms of guardian deities, forms of dakas and dakinis and so on. And there are many different mantras. Each of these archetypal forms of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, each of these archetypal forms has its or his or her own mantra, every single one, every Buddha, every Bodhisattva, Dharmapala and so on. So we may say that the form, the shape if you like, in which the Buddha or the Bodhisattva appears, the figure, represents the shape symbol, as we may call it, of the spiritual energy concerned, and the mantra represents its corresponding sound symbol. Now all these forms, all these figures, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and so on, have a colour, a definite colour assigned to them by tradition - some for instance are brilliant red, others are deep blue, others are pure white, others are a beautiful green - and colour, as we know, is a form of light. So we could call the shape symbol also a light symbol, and we could therefore speak not only of shape symbols and sound symbols but of light symbols and sound symbols.

Now this particular mantra with which we are concerned, OM MANI PADME HUM, is the mantra of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, and Avalokitesvara is perhaps the most famous of all the great Bodhisattvas. He's worshipped, meditated upon, invoked, not only in Tibet but throughout the Mahayana Buddhist world, and he's even worshipped here and there in Theravada Ceylon. Now coming back to the White Lotus Sutra we discover that in this work there's one whole chapter devoted to the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, so we may even say that Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, is one of the symbols of the Mahayana in this sutra. So we shall be dealing tonight with this Avalokitesvara chapter, as well as with the parable that I have already mentioned, and it's for this reason that the title of the Jewel in the Lotus, which is Avalokitesvara's mantra, has been given to tonight's lecture. So we can see at once that our material this week is somewhat more varied, not to say miscellaneous, than usual, but it all ultimately centres on this one basic theme of the Jewel in the Lotus.

Now before we go into the significance of the symbols contained within this mantra and the general meaning of the mantra, I'm going to read this week's parable. It has no title in the original but perhaps we could call it the Parable of the Drunkard and the Jewel, and as I've already said the meaning of this parable is identical with that of the mantra itself. It occurs in Chapter Eight of the White Lotus Sutra.

Now how does this Chapter begin? - let's go into this a little bit first. First of all in this chapter the Buddha predicts to Supreme Enlightenment his disciple Purna. Now we find among the disciples of the Buddha, especially the chief disciples of whom there were sixty four, certain disciples were outstanding for particular qualities, not to say qualifications. And it so happens that Purna, among all the disciples of the Buddha, was the greatest speaker, the greatest preacher, and he was famous for his eloquence. So in this particular chapter the Buddha declares that Purna, in the distant future, will become a Buddha, and his name will be then Radiance of the Truth. Now you may remember that in previous chapters other disciples have been predicted to Supreme Enlightenment in the distant future, and different worlds as it were assigned to them, some of them unthinkably remote from our own. But in the case of Purna's prediction there's a difference. He too, the Buddha says, will become a Buddha in the distant future, but he'll not become a Buddha, he says, in some other world remote from ours. He will become a Buddha in this very world itself, millions and millions of years ahead. But it seems from what the Buddha goes on to say that in those days this world will be a very different place from what it is now; it will have undergone considerable changes, so much so it will have become what is called technically a pure world, a world free from certain imperfections, if you like an ideal world. It will have become very very much better, and this is surely a very encouraging thought - that if not in our lifetimes, at least in several millions of years time, this world will have become an almost perfect place.

Now the Indian Buddhist tradition has its own ideas as to what constitutes perfection so far as a world is concerned, and the sutra says in the first place the whole world will be perfectly flat. The Indians, including the Indian Buddhists, for some reason or other had an objection to any irregularity of the earth's surface. They apparently thought it was untidy and unaesthetic having all these mountains and hills all over the place breaking up the beautiful smooth contours of the horizon, so in those days, in millions of years' time, everything will have been worn flat, and I believe this is even geologically possible, that all the mountains will be made flat, all the hollows will be filled up, and the whole world will just be flat like the top of a table. But the sutra doesn't stop there. It says that the world will not only be made flat, but it'll be transformed, it'll hardly be recognizable. It won't be made up of things like earth and stone and so on. It'll be made up entirely of the seven precious things. In those distant days the whole earth will be made of gold and silver, crystal, etc., and there'll also be many buildings, and the buildings too, the sutra says, will also be made of the seven precious things, gold, silver, crystal and so on. And it also goes on to say, and this is a very interesting feature indeed, for some people at least, the sutra says that in those days divine vehicles will be stationed in the sky - this has a rather familiar ring! And not only that, but it says that the entire division between the world of men and the world of the gods will be abolished, will be broken down. There'll be no barrier between the ordinary human world and the world of the gods, or what we might call the archetypal realm. Human beings on the earth will look up and be able to see the gods, and the gods in their heavens looking down will be able to see human beings; there'll be this sort of regular contact and intercourse between them. And also the sutra goes on to say that in those days there will be in the world no places of suffering, not even the sound of any torment or distress. And it also goes on to say that in those days in the world there will be no women. I hope the Women's Liberation isn't listening! But this of course doesn't mean that the world will contain men but not women. It really means that there'll be no distinction of sex among the beings of the earth in those days - in a sense, neither men nor women, just human beings. And beings, it says, will be born, or reborn, by what is called apparitional birth - none of the present rather crude arrangements. People will just sort of spring into existence, blossom naturally out of thin air, as it were, and having been born in that way it's not surprising that they'll lead, according to the sutra, a purely spiritual life. They'll have no gross physical bodies; they'll have what are called mental bodies, spiritual bodies, and they'll all be self-luminous, brilliant, and they'll be able to fly through the air at will. And because they don't have gross material bodies, they won't have any need for gross material food. The sutra says they'll feed on only two things - they'll feed on delight in the Buddha's teaching and delight in meditation. And of course in those days, as isn't surprising under those circumstances, there'll be many many Bodhisattvas, and not only that, but as a crowning touch, the sutra says, there'll be many stupas, all made of the seven precious things.

So having given this rather glowing account of Purna's Buddha-world, or rather this world at the time when Purna becomes a Buddha, the Buddha, that is to say Shakyamuni, then proceeds to predict five hundred other disciples to Perfect Buddhahood, and of course they're very delighted with his prediction and they feel as though they've suddenly gained possession of something wonderful, and they tell a story, they tell a parable; they tell the Parable of the Drunken Man and the Jewel, and it's this that I'm now going to read. And they say: World-honoured One! It is as if some man goes to an intimate friend's house, gets drunk, and falls asleep. Meanwhile his friend, having to go forth on official duty, ties a priceless jewel within the man's garment as a present, and departs. The man, being drunk and asleep, knows nothing of this. On arising he travels onwards till he reaches some other country where, striving for food and clothing, he labours diligently, undergoes exceeding great hardship, and is content even if he can obtain but a little. Later his friend happens to meet him and speaks thus: 'Tut, sir! How is it you have come down to this merely for the sake of food and clothing? Wishing you to be in comfort and able to satisfy your five senses, I formerly, in such a year and month and on such a day, tied a priceless jewel within your garment. Now as of old it is present there, yet you in ignorance are slaving and worrying to keep yourself alive. How very stupid! Go you now and exchange that jewel for what you need and forever hereafter live as you will , free from poverty and shortage.' So that's their story, that's their parable. Now I'm sure that the general meaning of this parable is fairly clear, but I want to comment on just a few points, and then deal directly with the symbolism of the jewel, the symbolism of the jewel not only in context of the parable but in the context of the Mahayana generally, and this will bring us to the Jewel in the Lotus. So first of all, what does the parable ...

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