Longevity and Health in the Tradition of the Lotus Sutra in China

Longevity and Health in the Tradition of the Lotus Sutra in China.
Timour T. Makhamatov
PhD. in Philosophy,
University of Finance
Under the Govt. of the Russian Federation;
Russian Philosophical Society
Amongst various Buddhist schools and traditions of Buddhism in China –
the teaching of the Buddha introduced to the Chinese-spoken world
starting from I century A.D. and comprising about two millenniums of
Chinese history – one school deserves greater attention. It is a school
called Tiantaizong (天台宗), with the Lotus Sutra, or the Sutra of the
Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma(妙法蓮華經), propounded by
historical Buddha Shakyamuni in VI B.C. in India, being its basic and
founding canon. This tradition of Chinese Buddhism is represented by
three great masters of the early Mediaeval history of China: Grand Master
Nan Yueh (南岳大师), Grand Master Tian Tai (天台大师)and
Grand Master Miao Le (妙乐 大师), with Grand Master Tian Tai being
its copestone, both as a philosopher and spiritual practitioner. His widely
encompassing contribution both to the richest heritage of Chinese
Buddhist tradition in particular and in the world philosophy and spiritual
traditions in general, is mainly expressed in three of his treatises: The
Great Contemplation and Insight1 (摩诃止观),Small Contemplation and
Insight (小止观)and The Profound Meanings of the Lotus Sutra (妙法
Sanskrit origin of these two essential categories is Shamatha and Vipashyana.
蓮 華 經 玄 義 ). The most expressive of all is his doctrine of Three
Thousand ‘suchness’ 2 in One Moment of Thought ( 一 念 三 千 ) ,
disclosing the reality of each momentum of our thought, as comprising
the entire infinity of the Being with its 10 realms of existence (the realms
of hell, hungry spirits, animals, asuras, humans, heavenly creatures,
arhats, pratyekabuddhas, bodhisattvas and the highest - the Realm of
the Buddha), each containing, in turn, the same 10 layers of the world, at
the same time possessing three aspects of existence attributed to each of
the ten realms – environment, living beings inhabiting this environment,
and their mind.
The main idea expressed by Grand Master Tiantai, as derived from the
Lotus Sutra, regarding the everlasting question of the longevity (寿) of a
human being is that the longevity of an individual is closely related with
that of the entire material existence, which is in itself beyond
individuality. In the Lotus Sutra, it is in the most illustrative way
demonstrated in chapter XI (“The Vision of the Precious Stupa“, 妙法
蓮華經观宝塔品第十一 ), when inside one Precious Stupa two Buddhas
at once are residing side by side – Buddha Shakyamuni, representing the
eternity and perfection of Spirit and Soul, and Tathagata Abundant
Treasures (多宝如来)representing the eternity and immutability of
material substance of the Universe, whereas the Precious Stupa
symbolises eternal great Unity of the Universe. Thus, it is asserted that
the entire material existence is eternal in its essence, being in great
Oneness with spirit and space, whereas individual, particular objects
representing this existence are impermanent and void.
In this respect, Chapter XVI of the Lotus Sutra “The Duration of the Life
of Tathagata” (妙法蓮華經如来寿量品第十六) is also considerably
essential, expounding the core and most sacred teaching of the Buddha,
disclosing the real span of his Life as being eternal, with no beginning
and no end, being eternally caused by the Buddha’s profound practice of
Bodhisattva. Buddha asserts that although the entire multitude of sentient
beings witnesses his Great Extinction (Sanskr. - Mahaparinirvana), He
ever dwells here, in this world, and never be extinct. And in this chapter
of the Sutra, a term “Body of the Buddha” ( 佛 身 ) appears, that is
eventually of crucial importance. Buddha is saying there: “Every
momentum I ponder upon how to make living beings enter the No-End
Path and promptly attain the Body of the Buddha”3 (得入无上道,速成
就 佛 身 ). Elaborating on this great teaching, Grand Master Tian Tai
comments on the profound meaning of each of the five characters of the
Chinese name of the Lotus Sutra, as expressing the entire profundity and
power of the Dharma contained in the Sutra: 妙,法,蓮, 華 and 經,
with the ninth Subtlety of the essential meaning of the first character - 妙
– the Subtlety of the Original Life-span – as indicating that “the Buddha’s
original lifespan is ever lasting”4. This eventually leads to a conclusion
Translated from the Russian edition: Сутра о Бесчисленных Значениях. Сутра о Цветке Лотоса
Чудесной Дхармы. Сутра о Постижении Деяний и Дхармы Бодхисаттвы Всеобъемлющая
Мудрость. / Изд. подгот. А.Н. Игнатович, В.В. Северская. 2-е изд., испр. и доп. – М.: Ладомир,
2007. С. 243.
Haiyan, Shen. “The Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra. T’ien-t’ai Philosophy of Buddhism”.
Delhi, 2005. Vol. 1, P. 48.
that the lives of particular living creatures, with humans included, are
generally nothing but the Life of the Eternal Buddha ever dwelling here
in this world, that each separate life cannot be separated or considered
apart from the eternal Life of the Buddha, from the immutable and
indestructible Body of the Buddha. Is this not an inspiring reason for us
all to appreciate our actual life and health and ever strive for attaining
Harmony, Perfection and Wisdom?..
So, this entire world, the universe, is nothing but the Great Eternity, as
revealed in the Lotus Sutra. Whereas throughout its history, humanity has
been suffering greatly from numerous calamities, diseases, epidemics and
mortality. What is the root of these innumerable and everlasting
sufferings of human beings, and consequently, what should be the
ultimate medicine to eliminate diseases and endow the humanity with the
most precious gift of all – longevity?
According to Grand Master Tian Tai 5 , there are a number of grave
obstacles and hindrances standing on the way to longevity that dwell
nowhere else but within our mind. These are various perversions,
superstitions and preconceptions that are preconditioned by our
individual karma created and accumulated since our own immeasurable
past. Using Buddhist terminology, such obscurities of soul, heart and
mind are perceived as demons and are called Mara.
Now the question arises: is it at all possible to defeat, eliminate those
maras, conquer them once and forever, thus purifying our six sensual
channels (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind) and obtaining
As elaborated by prof. Shen Haiyan (沈海燕) in her substantial double-volume monograph named
“The Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra. T’ien-t’ai Philosophy of Buddhism”. Delhi, 2005.
indestructible health and longevity? The answer is: yes. In our age it is
possible through the challenging practice of Bodhisattva 6 (菩萨行)
only that the entire hordes of Mara will eventually be defeated. In
Chapter XX of the Lotus Sutra “Never Despising Bodhisattva”(常不軽
菩 薩 ) Buddha Shakyamuni is describing his own practice of this
challenging Path in one of his previous lives – by expressing sincere
reverence and worship to all people and other sentient beings surrounding
him, predicting them to eventually become Buddhas. That practice is
nothing but actually praying to the eternal Buddha-Nature (Sanskr. –
Tathagatagarbha) inherent within everyone and everything, including
ourselves. Thus, the Sutra maintains, through this practice, the profound
aspiration for enlightenment possessed by one bodhisattva, may not only
be cherished with others watching his practice, but also will inevitably
lead to the great purification of the above-mentioned six ‘roots’ of life,
planting the ‘seed’ of the enlightenment onto the soil of the ultimate
reality of Eternal Life of the Buddha eternally inherent within ourselves.
This teaching of the Buddha contained in the Threefold Lotus Sutra is
called ‘Dharma of One Buddha-vehicle’ (一佛乘 ) and is revered to be
the highest and most profound of all. In many parts of this Sutra Buddha
is asserting that anyone who ever practises this Dharma of One Buddhavehicle will eventually purify his six ‘roots’ of life and will never be
tortured by either of the five desires, anger, pride, arrogance, stupidity,
jealousy, etc. In chapter XXIII of this Sutra “Previous Actions of
Bodhisattva Medicine King” the following words are contained: “This
Sutra is a good medicine against the diseases of the people of
Practice of Bodhisattva means to realise one's own aspiration for enlightenment and perfection
through his care of others, thus infinitely and sincerely devoting oneself to serving others and the
Jambudvipa7. If an ill person can hear this Sutra, his indispositions will
instantly disappear; he will escape aging and death.”8 In the third part of
the Threefold Lotus Sutra – «The Sutra of the Activities and Dharma of
Bodhisattva All-Encompassing Wisdom» (观世音菩薩 行法经), in
which the six rules of the six 'roots' purification are explained, it is also
said: «false notions cause the ocean of karmic hindrances. If anyone
wishes to repent, let him sit straight and contemplate upon the 'sign' of
true reality. Sins are similar to snow or hoarfrost and melt under the sun
of wisdom. »9
In Chapter II “Expedient Means” of the Lotus Sutra(妙法蓮華經 方便
品第二) Buddha is expounding the teaching of “Ten Suchnesses” (十如
是)as being the basic and universal characteristics of all the realms of
the entire existence. According to the Sutra, these ten ‘suchnesses’ are but
the Wisdom of the Buddha itself, so by this Eye of all Buddhas the
Buddha sees the world. What are these ‘suchnesses’? They are:
“Suchness of appearance”, “Suchness of nature”, “Suchness of
substance”, “Suchness of power”, “Suchness of function’, “Suchness of
causes”, “Suchness of conditions”, “Suchness of effects”, “Suchness of
(meaning that the ‘appearance’ at the very beginning and the ‘retribution’
at the end are ultimately alike, and are converged into the same True
Ancient Sanskrit name of this world, typical for Buddhist scriptures.
Translated from the Russian edition: Сутра о Бесчисленных Значениях. Сутра о Цветке Лотоса
Чудесной Дхармы. Сутра о Постижении Деяний и Дхармы Бодхисаттвы Всеобъемлющая
Мудрость. / Изд. подгот. А.Н. Игнатович, В.В. Северская. 2-е изд., испр. и доп. – М.: Ладомир,
2007. С. 281.
Ibid., c. 317-318.
Reality10). Here lies no difference between good and evil, as they are but
one entity. As prof. Shen Haiyan expresses it, “the difference lies in the
state between manifestation and concealment. Good and evil transform
according to conditions, which is similar to the relationship between ice
and water. This indicates that both aspects exist as the one entity of True
reality, which arises in turn with causes and conditions.”11
According to traditional Chinese medicine, physical indispositions, both
potentially existing and actually expressed, are directly correlated with
our emotions, thoughts, feelings and life activities that are, in turn,
according to Buddha’s teachings, predetermined by the complexity of our
karma. According to Grand Master Tian Tai, “The correctly concentrated
mind is capable of curing any disease”12. What does Grand Master mean
by saying this? First of all, since the life of a separate human being is
tightly related with the great infinity of nature, heaven and earth, space
and universe, so are his misfortunes and indispositions, being nothing but
a deeply penetrating reflection of his personal wrong-doings, perverted
notions, disharmonious emotions and speech, both accumulated from his
past lives and presently conducted, upon his present material body, so
that our body bearing the entire complexity of its fortunes and
misfortunes, including various physical capacities, general flow of energy
and ultimately the potentiality of life span, can be well regarded as
nothing but the mirror displaying the monitor of ourselves. In this respect,
Grand Master Tian Tai teaches that judging from the present actual
moment of life we are capable of knowing both our past and future, since
both past and future simultaneously dwell in the present.
Haiyan, Shen. “The Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra. T’ien-t’ai Philosophy of Buddhism”.
Delhi, 2005. Vol. 2, P. 253.
Haiyan, Shen. “The Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra. T’ien-t’ai Philosophy of Buddhism”.
Delhi, 2005. Vol. 2, P. 252.
Xiao Zhi Guan (小止观), Chapter IX 'Treating the Illness'.
Generally speaking, through the above-mentioned teaching of ten
“Suchnesses”, disease and misfortune can be approached, along with the
employment of Tian Tai’s universal method of Zhi and Guan (止观 ). So,
according to Tian Tai, the method of treating diseases should be two-fold:
1. Cessation (止)of evil causes by contemplation upon our own mind,
since the entire causation of all kinds of physical and mental disorder
originates in our mind; and 2. Nourishment of good through proper
concentration and insight (观) on the profound Truth of Emptiness
and Impermanence, on the one hand, and omnipresent Eternal BuddhaNature, on the other.
First of all, applying the principle of Zhi(止), a disease must be
properly detected and recognised, with its causes clearly revealed. There
are three general causes of diseases: 1. misbalance between the Four
Great Elements (Earth, Water, Fire and Wind) and disorder of Five
Depositories (Heart, Lungs, Liver, Pancreas and Kidneys); 2. Diseases
caused by the interference of evil spirits; 3. Karmic diseases
preconditioned from past lives. In order to detect a disease, one should
first tranquilise and harmonise his emotions and mind, through seated
meditation ( 坐 禅 ) and with the help of internal consciousness,
expelling all kinds of empty thoughts and reminiscences from it. The
nature of mind is similar to the nature of water: it is in the condition of
calmness and stability only that the mind attains to transparency, thus
being able to clearly observe its own depths. Then, the mind should be
directed at the actual place of disorder.
Nextly, applying the second half of Tian Tai’s method, Guan (观), a
proper method of treatment should be chosen, to eliminate the disorder.
To contemplate on the mind and thoughts, using various specific ways of
breathing – rigorous and subtle, quick and slow, upper and lower,
warming up and cooling down, etc. – is a method prescribed for the first
kind of diseases13. Reciting mantra and dharani can be regarded as the
second method directed at the diseases caused by evil spirits, whereas
karmic diseases should only be eliminated through sincere and profound
self-purification by the repentance of wrongdoings committed in the past,
followed by beneficial and charitable actions, such as donations to the
Sangha or various kinds of support for the practice of the Buddha
Dharma, as is explained in various Sutras.
Thus, substantially speaking, the entire mind and soul should be
enlightened by our innate power of bodhisattva as the internal cause, in
the coherence with the power of the Dharma, as the external condition,
with our darkness and fundamental ignorance elucidated and our
individual ‘self’ preconditioned by our karma finally becoming in
harmony and inseparable unity with the whole nature, universe and
eternal wisdom. This is an ultimate cause for our individual life to
naturally become one with the eternal life of great Cosmos, by itself
obtaining the virtue (德) of Longevity (寿).
More elaborate teaching on this subject can be found in Xiao Zhi Guan (小止观), Chapter IX
'Treating the Illness' (in any appropriate edition).
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