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Report of Meeting 24th September 2013

We had our first Scriptural Reasoning meeting round a Buddhist text from the Lotus Sutra, introduced by David Izen.  The text is printed below.  David was accompanied by a Buddhist colleague, Linda, and following David's brief description of the place of this text in the Nichiren tradition we divided into two groups to study it.

David told us that this passage was part of the Buddha's penultimate teaching, and that the Buddha had said 'ignore my previous teaching'.  His very last teaching was about Nirvana.  Courage, wisdom and compassion were the key qualities to aim for, and this parable tells us we have access to them if we care to look within for the jewel in the robe.

This is what we studied:

The Jewel in the Robe

In the writings of Nichiren Daishonin we find the passage, "Even a heartless villain loves his wife and children. He too has a portion of the bodhisattva world within him." As this passage states, any person, no matter how evil or corrupt he may be, has in the depths of his life the inherent spirit of love and compassion for others.

Any person, inherently has the spirit of a bodhisattva, and moreover, the spirit of a Buddha. With regard to this point, the Lotus Sutra relates the parable of "The Jewel Hidden in the Robe":

Once upon a time there lived a man who had, as a friend, a rich public servant. One day the man called on his rich friend, who entertained him with food and wine. He became completely inebriated and fell asleep. The rich friend, however, suddenly had to set out on a journey involving urgent public business. He wanted to give his friend a priceless jewel which had the mystic power to fulfill any desire. But his friend was fast asleep. Finding no other alternative, he sewed the gem into the hem of his sleeping friend's robe. The man awoke to find his friend gone, totally unaware of the jewel his friend had given him. Before long, he allowed himself to sink into poverty, wandering through many countries and experiencing many hardships. After a long time, now reduced to sheer want, he met his old friend. The rich man, surprised at his condition, told him about the gift he had given him, and the man learned for the first time that he had possessed the priceless jewel all along.

This is an allegory told by Shakyamuni Buddha's disciples as they reflect upon their ignorance in neglecting to develop the supreme life condition of Buddhahood and being satisfied or comfortable with lower states of life.

No one has the right to take human life, which contains the "jewel" of the supreme life condition. If one cannot see the "supreme jewel" in another it means that one cannot recognise it in oneself.

This parable depicts the ignorance of human beings to the preciousness of their lives and the fundamental life-condition of Buddhahood. The purpose of Buddhist practice is to help you discover this stunning jewel within your life and polish it ‘till it shines brightly, illuminating not just your life but the lives of those around you. Buddhism teaches that awakening to this truth also has an immediate and far-reaching effect on his or her family, friends and society. This is a key point. When we reflect on the lessons of the twentieth century, stained by bloodshed and suffering, we could reflect that efforts to reform and restructure the institutions of society, to truly deepen human happiness, have come up short. Buddhism teaches that inner, personal transformation is the way to promote sustainable resolutions to world problems.

So what does it mean to be a Buddha? The word Buddha was a common noun used in India during the lifetime of Shakyamuni, it means ‘whole person’ or someone enlightened to the truth of life. This is an important point in the sense that enlightenment is not regarded as the exclusive province of one individual. The Buddhist sutras talk of the existence of Buddhas other than Shakyamuni. In a sense, then, Buddhism comprises not only the teachings of the Buddha but also the teaching that enables all people to become Buddhas themselves.

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