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Posted by Glenn on July 19, 2002 03:20:26 UTC

It is absolutely wrong to say that these kind of beliefs are not part of Buddhist teachings. We can see that in Avatamsaka Sutra depicted that when the Shakyamuni attained enlightenment in the bodhi tree he was gathered in circle by heavenly gods like brama to appeal Shakyamuni to preach the LAW to the people and when he expound his true Dharma-Lotus sutra- gods or heavenly beings,- beings of any of the Ten Worlds(Hell to Buddhahood) was there to hear to preach this Wonderful Law, his final teaching.
Like heavenly beings are introduced. The very first is Shakra Devanam Indra (Taishaku), the ruler of the Heavens. Indra was originally the god of thunder and one of the central deities in ancient Indian mythology. The sons of gods Freedom and Great Freedom trace their origin to Shiva, the ancient Indian god of destruction and a leading deity of Brahmanism. Freedom and Great Freedom seem to have been variant names for this deity. Even Brahma (Bonten), the world-creator and supreme deity of Brahmanism, is in attendance with his followers at the assembly on Eagle Peak.

The attendance of all of these deities at the preaching of the Lotus Sutra is meant to show that the Buddha is superior to these deities, and that he is their teacher and their guide. One of the titles of the Buddha is "Teacher of Gods and Humans," affirming his role as a teacher who can guide heavenly, as well as human, beings.

It is said that after Shakyamuni attained enlightenment, King Brahma asked him to preach the Law. One of the basic tenets of Buddhism is that the Buddha occupies an infinitely higher place than the various deities of ancient myth and tradition.

As we can see, The Lotus Sutra is not for human beings alone. It is dedicated to saving all living creatures. It is also interesting that gods worshiped in different localities of ancient India before the birth of Buddhism are described as attending the assembly on Eagle Peak to hear the preaching of the Lotus Sutra. This is because the new teaching of Buddhism viewed such gods not as some external existence that governs human lives, as had been the case in the hitherto non-Buddhist teachings, but as functions inherent in human life and the life of the universe.

The enlightenment of the Buddha penetrates deeply into the very essence of life. And the Lotus Sutra illuminates the one fundamental Law permeating that essence. That is why the practitioner of the Lotus Sutra is a champion of life who can influence even the heavenly deities or can move the entire universe. AsNichiren Daishonin writes, "Since my heart believes in the Lotus Sutra, I do not fear even Brama or shakra"

It is also interesting to note that inveterate enemies such as the heavenly beings and asuras and the dragons and garudas have gathered together to hear the sutra(Law). The message here would seem to be a religion that fans the flames of ethnic hatred is an inferior religion. The Lotus Sutra is a teaching of peace and equality.

Perhaps, you have been only familiar with Hinayana Buddhism(i.e. Theravada) and with their agama [earlier]sutras.It is impossible to understand the quintessence of Buddhism unless one delves into the teachings(sutras) of Mahayana Buddhism, which contains the deeper perception of reality.

The Buddha, or enlightened one, is said to possess four virtues: true self, eternity, happiness and purity. The original concept of these four virtues, however, predates Buddhism. Brahmanism, the prevailing religion in Shakyamuni’s India, taught that the human being has an enduring soul or essence called atman–“the breath of life.” Atman, often translated as “self,” was viewed as eternal, happy and pure. Espoused by the Brahmans, then India’s highest, priestly caste, Brahmanism explained that the supreme purpose of atman was to acquire wealth and honor. So, by making offerings to the deities, people sought worldly gains. Atman, in this sense, may be viewed as self in pursuit of selfish desire.

In his early teachings, Shakyamuni refuted the Brahmanic view of self and in his later teachings revealed his enlightened perspective on the matter. When people are consumed with egotism, no matter how much they seek wealth and honor, the pain of their hunger will not be eased. So from this standpoint, Shakyamuni taught that the self is impure and transient and causes suffering. In the earlier sutras, he explains that nothing remains constant, there is no such thing as eternal self(no self). Because the self was transient and not enduring, the Buddha taught, attachment to it or anything in this impure and fleeting world was the cause of suffering. In his later teachings, which came to be classified as Mahayana, or “Greater Vehicle” teachings, especially in the LOTUS and Nirvana sutras, Shakyamuni expounds an entirely new view of self. He explains that one’s true self, that is, one’s Buddha nature, is eternal, transcending the cycle of birth and death; it is essentially pure and endowed with happiness. From the viewpoint of Mahayana Buddhism, therefore, true self, eternity, happiness and purity are called the four virtues of the Buddha. In this regard, one Mahayana scripture explains: “The deluded beings are attached to their lesser self and thus suffer. Buddhas and bodhisattvas discard the lesser self. As a result, their self is pure and thus called the greater self. Because they think of all living beings as ‘self,’ theirs is called the greater self.”

While Brahmanism justifies attachment to self, Mahayana Buddhism advocates the inner reform to discard one’s lesser self and develop the greater self rooted in compassion. The Nirvana Sutra clarifies this point, saying: “The deluded beings view that in this world, self is eternal, happy and pure, but this is topsy-turvy. The Buddha also views that in this world, self is eternal, happy and pure, and this is the truth.” Buddhas are those who are awakened to the greater self of compassion. In this expanded vision of self, they see that their lives are connected to others and the world around them. So Buddhas have genuine appreciation for others and are driven by their desire to contribute to the world around them.

And the four virtues of the Buddha, from the standpoint of the Daishonin’s Buddhism, describe the ideal characteristics of human beings whose view of self is not hindered in any way by selfish ego. Their understanding of self is so encompassing that their own existence and the world around them become indistinguishable. A limited understanding of self, however, leads to egotism, bringing suffering and misery to both oneself and others. True self-knowledge—an awakening to our true, greater self—in this sense is a key to overcoming selfishness.

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