Inspirations Behind the Mandala of the Lotus Sutra
I always believe that the mandala of the Lotus Sutra should focus purely only upon the realm of Buddhahood. This means that only Buddhas and bodhisattvas are included in the mandala. Non-Buddhahood related beings, be they good or bad, should not be included at all. The reason is simple: what we pay attention every day in our daily ritual becomes who we are. A mandala is a sacred object that works like a mirror. If we focus upon Buddhahood, we become a Buddha. If we focus upon all kinds of beings in the Ten Worlds, we will unconsciously be distracted and adulterated which, in turn, will become a stumbling block in our journey of attaining Buddhahood. Thus, it is critical that we focus on the Law of Buddhahood as our core Dharma practice.
Prayer, chanting and meditation are sacred rituals to cultivate our minds. By constantly be mindful of Buddhahood within the depths of our lives, we will achieve single-pointed concentration (samadhi) to awaken, polish, and illuminate our inner worlds of Buddhahood.
You may practice the Lotus Sutra based on the concise Liturgy of the Lotus Happiness Dharma Sanctuary.
Three Major Differentiations
With the awareness of the pros and cons of Nichiren Gohonzon, I have created an innovative mandala that reflects my conviction that the mandala of the Lotus Sutra should focus only upon the state of Buddhahood. The following are three major differentiations between Nichiren Gohonzon and mandala of the Lotus Sutra:
#1: Only Buddhas and Bodhisattvas found in the Lotus Sutra
Influenced by Zhiyi’s philosophy of Ichinen Sanzen (mutual possession of the Ten Worlds) as well as the Japanese culture of Shintoism, Nichiren included a full spectrum of beings in the Gohonzon.
In contrast, the mandala of the Lotus Sutra focuses only on the state of Buddhahood and the direct teachings of the Lotus Sutra, as opposed to the “derived” doctrines created by a Buddhist master. Therefore, only the most important Buddhas and bodhisattvas who can be traced back to the Lotus Sutra are selected and included in the mandala of the Lotus Sutra for the benefit of Buddhist practitioners.
#2: No Shinto, Hindu, or wrathful gods and deities
While many of the heavenly gods or wrathful deities are benevolent beings who are known to protect the Dharma and the practitioners of the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha has not given instructions for his disciple to worship them. As such, all types of non-Buddhahood beings such as local Japanese deities, Hindu gods, wrathful Dharma protectors or beings are excluded.
In fact, Shakyamuni Buddha had expressly instructed his disciples to pay homage to Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, but this bodhisattva that personifies compassion is prominently absent in the Gohonzon.
#3: Focus on the Dharma, not the Person
Focusing on the Dharma, rather than any person, is the most reliable way of practicing Buddhism. In Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the Buddha taught his disciples to “follow the teachings, not men; the meaning, not the word; true wisdom, not shallow understanding.”
Hence, consistent with the Buddha’s teachings of focusing on the Dharma instead of any person, the names of all Buddha’s disciples and Buddhist masters such as Nichiren, high priests of Nikko-lineages, Zhiyi, Miao-lo, Dengyo, Shariputra, Mahakashyapa are excluded.
Ten Inspirations behind the Design of the Mandala of the Lotus Sutra
Inspiration #1: Lotus Flower
The first impression of the mandala of the Lotus Sutra is the lotus flower. This lotus represents the essence of the Lotus Sutra, the Law of White Lotus, or the Law of Buddhahood. There is no better way to represent the wisdom of Lotus Sutra metaphorically other than the image lotus flower because the lotus is the ultimate symbolism of the wonderful Dharma of Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi.
Similar to Nichiren Gohonzon, five large Chinese characters of the Lotus Sutra—Miao Fa Lian Huang Jing (妙法莲华经)—are written vertically in the middle of the lotus. The presence of the large title of the Lotus Sutra in Chinese characters helps the practitioners to focus on the wisdom of Supreme Perfect Enlightenment as taught in the Lotus Sutra.
Inspiration #2: Eight Petals
In Chapter 7, Shakyamuni Buddha revealed his past rebirth as the youngest of the sixteen sons of Great Astuteness and Surpassing Wisdom Buddha.11 Shakyamuni Buddha and his fifteen brothers had already attained Buddhahood in the remote past.
The eight petals of the lotus flower wonderfully depict the sixteen princes who were already Buddhas in the eight directions. These fifteen Buddhas share an intimate connection with Shakyamuni Buddha because they are his brothers. The presence of these Buddhas is significant for a number of reasons. First, they are concrete examples of Shakyamuni Buddha’s attainment of Buddhahood eons ago. This is consistent with his revelation of eternal lifespan and his attainment of Buddhahood in the remote past in Chapter 16. Second, it reveals that Shakyamuni Buddha is not the only Buddha because Buddhas are everywhere in the Universe:
O monks! Now I shall reveal to you that these sixteen shramanas, the disciples of the Buddha, have already attained Supreme Perfect Enlightenment. Everywhere in the ten directions, they are currently expounding the Law, with immeasurable hundreds of thousands of millions of billions of bodhisattvas and shravakas as their followers.
In the eastern region, there are two Buddhas: one is known as Akshobhya who lives in the Land of Joy while the other is named Sumeru Peak.
As for the southeastern region, there are two Buddhas: one is named Lion Voice while the other is named Lion Appearance.
In the southern region, there are two Buddhas: one is named Space Dwelling and the other is named Eternal Extinction.
In the southwestern region, there are two Buddhas: one is named Emperor Appearance while the other is named Brahma Appearance.
In the western region, there are two Buddhas: one is named Amida, the other is named Saving All from the Suffering of the World.
In the northwestern region, there are two Buddhas: one is named Tamalapatra Sandalwood Fragrance Divine Power and the other is named Sumeru Appearance.
In the northern region, there are two Buddhas: one is named Cloud Freedom, the other is named King of Cloud Freedom.
In the northeastern region, there are two Buddhas: one is named Destroyer of All Worldly Fear and the sixteenth is I, Shakyamuni Buddha, who attained Supreme Perfect Enlightenment in this Saha land (LS 7: 4.13).
Inspiration #3: The Treasure Pagoda with Two Buddhas
Meanwhile, Abundant Treasures Buddha offered half his seat in the Treasure Pagoda to Shakyamuni Buddha, saying: ‘O Shakyamuni Buddha! Take a seat over here!’ At once, Shakyamuni Buddha entered the pagoda and seated himself in cross-legged position on half the seat (LS 11: 2.24).
Similar to Nichiren Gohonzon, two Buddhas—Shakyamuni Buddha and Abundant Treasures Buddha—are present on both sides of the Chinese character of the Lotus Sutra, Miao Fa Lian Hua Jing (妙法莲华经).
This depiction is an inspiration from Chapter 11 in which a seven-jewelled treasure pagoda emerged from the earth and suspended in mid-air. Inside the pagoda was the Abundant Treasures Tathagata who had long ago entered parinirvana, and Shakyamuni Buddha who was invited by Abundant Treasures Tathagata to join him. The five Chinese characters of the Lotus Sutra represent the Treasure Pagoda.
Inspiration #4: Bodhisattva Manjushri
‘O Maitreya! You should know that Bodhisattva Splendid Light who lived at that time was none other than I myself while Bodhisattva Seeker of Fame was you. Now when I witness this auspicious sign, it is no different from what I had seen before. I surmise that today Tathagata is going to expound the Great Vehicle sutra known as The Lotus Sutra—the Law to guide bodhisattvas, the Law protected and mindfully guarded by Buddhas’ (LS 1: 3.14).
Bodhisattva Manjushri is considered the oldest and most significant bodhisattva associated with prajna, or transcendental wisdom, in Mahayana Buddhism. Found in Mahayana sutras such as the Prajnaparamita Sutra and the Avatamsaka Sutra, he is the yidam, or meditational deity, in Tibetan Buddhism. In Chinese Buddhism, he is one of the Four Great Bodhisattvas; the three other bodhisattvas are Kṣitigarbha, Avalokitesvara, and Samantabhadra. He and Bodhisattva Samantabhadra also form the Trinity of Shakyamuni Buddha.
In Chapter 1 of Lotus Sutra, Bodhisattva Manjushri revealed his past identity as Bodhisattva Splendid Light who was the teacher of Bodhisattva Maitreya in the remote past. In Chapter 12, Bodhisattva Manjushri was a teacher who guided the dragon daughter to attain Buddhahood solely by teaching her the Lotus Sutra. In Chapter 14, Bodhisattva Manjushri expounded the ways to practice the Lotus Sutra with peace and joy.
Inspiration #5: Bodhisattva Universal Worthy
Thereafter, Shakyamuni Buddha extolled him, saying: ‘Excellent, excellent! O Universal Worthy! Because you are able to shield and support the Lotus Sutra for the peace, joy, and benefit of all living beings, you have already accomplished extraordinary merits and displayed profound compassion. Since the remote past, you have already awakened a desire to attain Supreme Perfect Enlightenment and have taken a vow to use your divine powers to guard and protect the Lotus Sutra. I will use my divine powers to guard and shield those who are able to accept and embrace the name of Bodhisattva Universal Worthy’ (LS 28: 2.1).
Bodhisattva Universal Worthy (Skt. Samantabadra) is an eminent bodhisattva in the Mahayana tradition. In Chinese Buddhism, he is the Trinity of Shakyamuni Buddha and also one of the Four Great Bodhisattvas. In Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, he is regarded as the Adi-Buddha (i.e. First Buddha or Primordial Buddha) who is presented in indivisible Yab-Yum (Buddhist symbol) with his consort Samantabhadri as a way to depict primordial union of wisdom and compassion.
In Avatamsaka Sutra, he guided Sudhana to follow Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara in the practice of achieving enlightenment. Moreover, he is well-known to have made ten vows to achieve Buddhahood:12
1. To pay homage and respect to all Buddhas
2. To praise the Tathagata
3. To offer abundant offerings generously
4. To repent misdeeds and evil karmas
5. To rejoice in others’ merits and virtues
6. To request the Buddhas to continue teaching
7. To request the Buddhas to remain in the world
8. To follow the teachings of the Buddhas at all times
9. To accommodate and benefit all living beings
10. To transfer all merits and virtues to benefit all beings
In Chapter 28 of the Lotus Sutra, Bodhisattva Universal Worthy joined the congregation just before Shakyamuni Buddha wrapped up his teaching. He came to offer encouragement, support, and protection to the practitioners of the Lotus Sutra. He also gave assurance to Shakyamuni Buddha with respect to widespread propagation of the Lotus Sutra in the Saha world.
The closing sutra of the Lotus Sutra—The Sutra of Meditation on Bodhisattva Universal Worthy—is essentially a teaching of meditation upon emptiness as a way of purifying all past negative karma for the purpose of attaining Buddhahood quickly.
Inspiration #6: Bodhisattva Maitreya
He will be the next Buddha
with the name Maitreya,
who will broadly save all living beings
in numbers beyond measure. (LS 1: 4.36)
In Cakkavatti Sutta13 of the Pali Canon, Bodhisattva Maitreya was predicted by Shakyamuni Buddha to be the next future Buddha. In Chapter 1 of the Lotus Sutra, Bodhisattva Manjushri declared that Bodhisattva Maitreya will be the next Buddha to succeed Shakyamuni Buddha.
Bodhisattva Maitreya appeared many times in the Lotus Sutra as the leader who asked Shakyamuni Buddha questions in Chapters 1, 15, 16, 18. In Chapter 16, he beseeched Shakyamuni Buddha three times to preach the Dharma.
Inspiration #7: Bodhisattva Medicine King
The Buddha spoke to Bodhisattva Flower King of Constellation: “Who do you think Bodhisattva Joyfully Seen by All Living Beings was? He was none other than the present Bodhisattva Medicine King! His offerings of self-sacrifice amount to immeasurable hundreds of thousands of millions of billions of nayuta of numbers (LS 23: 2.1).
Bodhisattva Medicine King is an important figure as he appeared in the Lotus Sutra numerous times: chapter 1, 10, 13, 23, 26. In Chapter 23: History of Bodhisattva Medicine King, the Buddha narrated the past life story of Bodhisattva Medicine King who practiced the Dharma by giving abundant of offerings to Pure and Brilliant as the Sun and Moon Buddha.
His practice is similar to the past life ascetic practices of Shakyamuni Buddha in that he did not hesitate to sacrifice his limbs and life for the sake of Dharma.
Inspiration #8: Bodhisattva Wonderful Music
O Splendid Virtue! Bodhisattva Wonderful Music is able to save and protect various living beings in the Saha world. Bodhisattva Wonderful Music transforms and manifests himself in different forms so as to expound the Lotus Sutra for all living beings in the Saha world. Yet his divine powers, his transformations, and his wisdom will never be undermined or deteriorated (LS 24: 2.6).
Bodhisattva Wonderful Music practiced the Dharma by giving music as an offering to King of Thunderous Sound in the Clouds Buddha. This bodhisattva saved people in the Saha world through his divine powers by skillfully transforming into various physical forms to lead people to enlightenment.
This bodhisattva is special because he does not dwell in the Saha world and his name is not mentioned is any of the Mahayana sutras except the Lotus Sutra.
Inspiration #9: Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara
O Infinite Intention! This Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara has accomplished merits by transforming into various forms and traveling throughout the lands to save living beings. Hence, all of you should wholeheartedly give offerings to Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (LS 25: 1.17).
Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara is the bodhisattva of profound benevolence and compassion. There are innumerable temples dedicated to Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara in China, Korea, and Japan—a testament to the immense popularity of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara is among Mahayana Buddhists. In Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama is considered as the reincarnation of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. Thus, it is bewildering and perplexing that the famous name of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara is virtually non-existent in Tendai and Nichiren Buddhism.
Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara appear in many Mahayana sutras such as the Nilakantha Dharani Sutra, the Karandaavyuha Sutra, and the Heart Sutra. In Chapter 25 of the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha urged his disciples to give offerings to Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara wholeheartedly and always be mindful of his name for divine protection in times of adversity.
Inspiration #10: Four Bodhisattvas of the Earth
Meanwhile, through the divine powers of the Buddha, the four groups saw the bodhisattvas filling the empty space of immeasurable hundreds of thousands of millions of billions of lands. Among these bodhisattvas were the four leaders. The first leader was called Superior Actions, the second leader was called Boundless Actions, the third leader was called Pure Actions, and the fourth leader was called Steadfast Actions. These four bodhisattvas were the foremost teachers and leaders among the assembly (LS 15: 1.8).
Nichiren considered himself to be the reincarnation of Bodhisattva Superior Actions.14 The Nikko-lineage of Nichiren Buddhism, Soka Gakkai and Nichiren Shoshu, regards Nichiren as the “Original Buddha” (Adi-Buddha) and rejects the contentions of other Nichiren sects that view him as a bodhisattva.15
The primary reason why the four bodhisattvas of the earth are included is due to the emergence of the four leaders of the bodhisattvas of the earth—Superior Actions, Boundless Actions, Pure Actions, and Steadfast Actions—in response to the summons of Shakyamuni Buddha in Chapter 15. To benefit living beings in the Saha world, the Buddha entrusted the propagation of the Lotus Sutra in the Saha world to the four leaders of the bodhisattvas of the earth instead of the bodhisattvas from the other lands.
Number Reference to the Mandala of the Lotus Sutra
|No.||Name in English||Name in Chinese|
|1||Lotus Sutra of the Magnificent Law||妙法莲华经
(Miao Fa Lian Hua Jing)
|2||Shakyamuni Buddha||释迦牟尼佛 (Shi Jia Mou Ni Fo)|
|3||Abundant Treasures Tathagata||多宝如来 (Duo Bao Ru Lai)|
|4||Bodhisattva Manjushri||文殊师利菩萨 (Wen Shu Shi Li Pu Sa)|
|5||Bodhisattva Universal Worthy||普贤菩萨 (Pu Xian Pu Sa)|
|6||Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara||观世音菩萨 (Guan Shi Yin Pu Sa)|
|7||Bodhisattva Wonderful Music||妙音菩萨 (Miao Yin Pu Sa)|
|8||Bodhisattva Medicine King||药王菩萨 (Yao Wang Pu Sa)|
|9||Bodhisattva Maitreya||弥勒菩萨 (Mi Le Pu Sa)|
|10||Bodhisattva Superior Actions||上行菩萨 (Shang Xing Pu Sa)|
|11||Bodhisattva Boundless Actions||无边行菩萨 (Wu Bian Xing Pu Sa)|
|12||Bodhisattva Pure Actions||净行菩萨 (Jing Xing Pu Sa)|
|13||Bodhisattva Steadfast Actions||安立行菩萨 (An Li Xing Pu Sa)|
|14||Akshobhya Buddha||阿閦佛 (A Chu Fo)|
|15||Sumeru Peak Buddha||须弥顶佛 (Xu Mi Ding Fo)|
|16||Lion Voice Buddha||师子音佛 (Shi Zi Yin Fo)|
|17||Lion Appearance Buddha||师子相佛 (Shi Zi Xiang Fo)|
|18||Space Dwelling Buddha||虚空住佛 (Xu Kong Zhu Fo)|
|19||Eternal Extinction Buddha||常灭佛 (Chang Mie Fo)|
|20||Emperor Appearance Buddha||帝相佛 (Di Xiang Fo)|
|21||Brahma Appearance Buddha||梵相佛 (Fan Xiang Fo)|
|22||Amida Buddha||阿弥陀佛 (A Mi Tuo Fo)|
|23||Saving All from the Suffering of the World Buddha||度一切世间苦恼佛 (Du Yi Qie Shi Jian Ku Nao Fo)|
|24||Sumeru Appearance||须弥相佛 (Xu Mi Xiang Fo)|
|25||Tamalapatra Sandalwood Fragrance Divine Power||多摩罗跋栴檀香神通佛(Duo Mo Luo Ba Zhan Tan Xiang Shen Fo)|
|26||Cloud Freedom||云自在佛(Yun Zi Zai Fo)|
|27||King of Cloud Freedom||云自在王佛(Yun Zi Zai Wang Fo)|
|28||Destroyer of All Worldly Fear Buddha||坏一切世间怖畏佛(Huai Zi Qie Shi Jian Bu Wei Fo)|
|29||Shakyamuni Buddha||释迦牟尼佛 (Shi Jia Mou Ni Fo)|
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