Doing Time Doing Vipassana

Published on Oct 7, 2013
A film by Eilona Ariel & Ayelet Menahemi

This is the story of an ancient meditation technique named Vipassana, which shows people how to take control of their lives and channel them toward their own good.It is the story of a strong woman named Kiran Bedi, the former Inspector General of Prisons in New Delhi, who strove to transform the notorious Tihar Prison and turn it into an oasis of peace. But most of all it is the story of prison inmates who underwent profound change, and who realized that incarceration is not the end but possibly a fresh start toward an improved and more positive life.

– Winner of the Golden Spire Award at the 1998 San Francisco International Film Festival

– Winner of the 1998 NCCD Pass Awards of the American National Council on Crime and Delinquency

Noble Eightfold Path

The Noble Eightfold Path (Pali: ariyo aṭṭhaṅgiko maggo, Sanskrit: āryāṣṭāṅgamārga)[1] is one of the principal teachings ofŚrāvakayāna. It is also known as the Middle Path or Middle Way. Its goal is Arhatship.[2] The Noble Eightfold Path is contrasted with the Bodhisattva path of Mahayana which culminates in Buddhahood.[2]

Also called the Eightfold Path of the Nobles, eight concepts constitute the path: right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right samadhi.[3]

The Noble Eightfold Path is the fourth of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths, and asserts the path to the cessation of dukkha (suffering, pain, unsatisfactoriness).[4][5] The path teaches that through restraining oneself, cultivating discipline, practicing mindfulness and meditation, the enlightened ones stop their craving, clinging and karmic accumulations, and thus end their rebirth and suffering.[6][7][8]It is used to develop insight into the true nature of reality, achieve liberation from rebirths in realms of Samsara, and attain nirvana(nibbana).[5][9][10]

In Buddhist symbolism, the Noble Eightfold Path is often represented by means of the dharma wheel (dharmachakra), whose eight spokes represent the eight elements of the path.

The Noble Eightfold Path is sometimes divided into three basic divisions, as follows:[26]

Division Eightfold Path factors
Wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñā, Pāli: paññā) 1. Right view
2. Right resolve
Moral virtue[29] (Sanskrit: śīla, Pāli: sīla) 3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
Meditation[29] (Sanskrit and Pāli: samādhi) 6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration

The Right View can be further subdivided, states Bhikkhu Bodhi, into Mundane Right View and Superior or Supramundane Right View.[31][32]

This presentation is called the “Three Higher Trainings” in Mahāyāna Buddhism: higher moral discipline, higher concentration and higher wisdom. “Higher” here refers to the fact that these trainings that lead to liberation and enlightenment are engaged in with the motivation of renunciation and bodhicitta.

Wisdom group: paths 1 and 2

Wisdom” (prajñā / paññā) group consists of the first two paths: right view and right resolve.

Right view

Right view (samyak-dṛṣṭi / sammā-diṭṭhi) is the first of the eightfold path, and it relates to right view about karma and rebirth, and a belief in the importance of the Four Noble Truths and the True Realities.[29] There are two types of right view:

  1. Mundane right view. Having this type of view will bring merit and will support the favourable rebirth of the sentient being in the realm of samsara.
  2. Supramundane (world-transcending) right view. Four Noble Truths lead to awakening and liberation from rebirths and associated dukkha in the realms of samsara.

The Majjhima Nikaya, a Pāli Canonical text, in section III.71, presents the Mundane Right View:

Of those [Eightfold Path], right view is the forerunner. And how is right view the forerunner? One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one’s right view. And what is wrong view? ‘There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed. There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions. There is no this world, no next world, no mother, no father, no spontaneously reborn beings; no contemplatives or brahmans who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.’ This is wrong view.[33]

And what is the right view with effluents, siding with merit, resulting in acquisitions? ‘There is what is given, what is offered, what is sacrificed.[note 2] There are fruits, and results of good and bad actions. There is this world and the next world. There is mother and father. There are spontaneously reborn beings; there are contemplatives and brahmans who faring rightly and practicing rightly, proclaim this world and the next after having directly known and realized it for themselves.’ This is the right view with effluents, siding with merit, resulting in acquisitions.[33][34]

Elsewhere, the Pali texts assert the Supramundane Right View, which is the understanding of karmic and rebirth implications within the Four Noble Truths, such as in Majjhima Nikaya III.248 and Samyutta Nikaya II.5.[35][29]

Right view has many facets; its elementary form is suitable for lay followers, while the other form, which requires deeper understanding, is suitable for monastics. Usually, it involves accepting the following doctrines of Buddhism:[36][37]

  1. Karma: Every action of body, speech, and mind has karmic results, and influences the kind of future rebirths and realms a being enters into.
  2. Three marks of existence: everything, whether physical or mental, is impermanent (anicca), a source of suffering (dukkha), and lacks a self (anatta).
  3. The Four Noble Truths are a means to gaining insights and ending dukkha.

Right view for monastics is also described in the Sammādiṭṭhi Sutta (“Right View Discourse”), in which Sariputta instructs that right view can alternately be attained by the thorough understanding of the unwholesome and the wholesome, the four nutriments, the twelve nidanas or the three taints.[38] “Wrong view” arising from ignorance (avijja), is the precondition for wrong resolve, wrong speech, wrong action, wrong livelihood, wrong effort, wrong mindfulness and wrong concentration.[39][40] The practitioner should use right effort to abandon the wrong view and to enter into right view. Right mindfulness is used to constantly remain in right view.

The purpose of right view is to clear one’s path from confusion, misunderstanding, and deluded thinking. It is a means to gain right understanding of reality.[41] Right view in some interpretations, state Chryssides and Wilkins, is ultimately non-view, as the enlightened become aware that nothing can be expressed in fixed conceptual terms and rigid, dogmatic clinging to concepts is discarded.[41]

Right resolve

Right resolve (samyak-saṃkalpa / sammā sankappa) can also be known as “right thought”, “right intention”, or “right aspiration”. In this factor, the practitioner resolves to leave home, renounce the worldly life and dedicate himself to a spiritual pursuit.[25][29] In section III.248, the Majjhima Nikaya states,

And what is right resolve? Being resolved on renunciation, on freedom from ill will, on harmlessness: This is called right resolve.[42]

Like right view, this factor has two levels. At the mundane level, the resolve includes being harmless (ahimsa) and refraining from ill will (avyabadha) to any being, as this accrues karma and leads to rebirth.[29][43] At the supramundane level, the factor includes a resolve to consider everything and everyone as impermanent, a source of suffering and without a Self.[43]

Moral virtues group: paths 3, 4 and 5

Main article: Buddhist ethics

Moral virtues” (Sanskrit: śīla, Pāli: sīla) group consists of three paths: right speech, right action and right livelihood.[29] The word śīla though translated by English writers as linked to “morals or ethics”, states Bhikkhu Bodhi, is in ancient and medieval Buddhist commentary tradition closer to the concept of discipline and disposition that “leads to harmony at several levels – social, psychological, karmic and contemplative”.[44] Such harmony creates an environment to pursue the meditative steps in the Noble Eightfold Path by reducing social disorder, preventing inner conflict that result from transgressions, favoring future karma-triggered movement through better rebirths, and purifying the mind.[44][45]

Right speech

Right speech (samyag-vāc / sammā-vācā) in most Buddhist texts is presented as four abstentions, such as in the Pali Canon thus:[33][46]

And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, and from idle chatter: This is called right speech.

Instead of the usual “abstention and refraining from wrong” terminology,[44] a few texts such as the Samaññaphala Sutta and Kevata Sutta in Digha Nikaya explain this virtue in an active sense, after stating it in the form of an abstention.[47] For example, Samaññaphala Sutta states that a part of a monk’s virtue is that “he abstains from false speech. He speaks the truth, holds to the truth, is firm, reliable, no deceiver of the world.”[47] Similarly, the virtue of abstaining from divisive speech is explained as delighting in creating concord.[47] The virtue of abstaining from abusive speech is explained in this Sutta to include affectionate and polite speech that is pleasing to people. The virtue of abstaining from idle chatter is explained as speaking what is connected with the Dhamma goal of his liberation.[47][29]

In the Abhaya-raja-kumara Sutta, the Buddha explains the virtue of right speech in different scenarios, based on its truth value, utility value and emotive content.[48][49] TheTathagata, states Abhaya Sutta, never speaks anything that is unfactual or factual, untrue or true, disagreeable or agreeable, if that is unbeneficial and unconnected to his goals.[49][50] Further, adds Abhaya Sutta, the Tathagata speaks the factual, the true, if in case it is disagreeable and unendearing, only if it is beneficial to his goals, but with a sense of proper time.[49][50] Additionally, adds Abhaya Sutta, the Tathagata, only speaks with a sense of proper time even when what he speaks is the factual, the true, the agreeable, the endearing and what is beneficial to his goals.[49][50][51]

The Buddha thus explains right speech in the Pali Canon, according to Ganeri, as never speaking something that is not beneficial; and, only speaking what is true and beneficial, “when the circumstances are right, whether they are welcome or not”.[51]

Right action

Right action (samyak-karmānta / sammā-kammanta) is like right speech, expressed as abstentions but in terms of bodily action. In the Pali Canon, this path factor is stated as:

And what is right action? Abstaining from killing, abstaining from stealing, abstaining from sexual misconduct. This is called right action.[52]

The prohibition on killing precept in Buddhist scriptures applies to all living beings, states Christopher Gowans, not just human beings.[53] Bhikkhu Bodhi agrees, clarifying that the more accurate rendering of the Pali canon is a prohibition on “taking life of any sentient being”, which includes human beings, animals, birds, insects but excludes plants because they are not considered sentient beings.[54] Further, adds Bodhi, this precepts refers to intentional killing, as well as any form of intentional harming or torturing any sentient being.[54] This moral virtue in early Buddhist texts, both in context of harm or killing of animals and human beings, is similar to ahimsa precepts found in the texts particularly of Jainism as well as of Hinduism,[55][56] and has been a subject of significant debate in various Buddhist traditions.[54]

The prohibition on stealing in the Pali Canon is an abstention from intentionally taking what is not voluntarily offered by the person to whom that property belongs.[57] This includes, states Bhikkhu Bodhi, taking by stealth, by force, by fraud or by deceit.[58] Both the intention and the act matters, as this precept is grounded on the impact on one’s karma.[58]

The prohibition on sexual misconduct in the Noble Eightfold Path, states Tilmann Vetter, refers to “not performing sexual acts”.[59] This virtue is more generically explained in theCunda Kammaraputta Sutta, which teaches that one must abstain from all sensual misconduct, including getting sexually involved with someone unmarried (anyone protected by parents or by guardians or by siblings), and someone married (protected by husband), and someone betrothed to another person, and female convicts or by dhamma.[60][61]

For monastics, the abstention from sensual misconduct means strict celibacy, states Christopher Gowans, while for lay Buddhists this prohibits adultery as well as other forms of sensual misconduct.[62][63][64] Later Buddhist texts, states Bhikkhu Bodhi, state that the prohibition on sexual conduct for lay Buddhists includes any sexual involvement with someone married, a girl or woman protected by her parents or relatives, and someone prohibited by dhamma conventions (such as relatives, nuns and others).[60]

Right livelihood

Right livelihood (samyag-ājīva / sammā-ājīva) precept is mentioned in many early Buddhist texts, such as the Mahācattārīsaka Sutta in Majjhima Nikaya as follows:[33]

“And what is right livelihood? Right livelihood, I tell you, is of two sorts: There is right livelihood with effluents, siding with merit, resulting in acquisitions; there is right livelihood that is noble, without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path.

“And what is the right livelihood with effluents, siding with merit, resulting in acquisitions? There is the case where a disciple of the noble ones abandons wrong livelihood and maintains his life with right livelihood. This is the right livelihood with effluents, siding with merit, resulting in acquisitions.

“And what is the right livelihood that is noble, without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path? The abstaining, desisting, abstinence, avoidance of wrong livelihood in one developing the noble path whose mind is noble, whose mind is without effluents, who is fully possessed of the noble path. (…)

The early canonical texts state right livelihood as avoiding and abstaining from wrong livelihood. This virtue is further explained in Buddhist texts, states Vetter, as “living from begging, but not accepting everything and not possessing more than is strictly necessary”.[59] For lay Buddhists, states Harvey, this precept requires that the livelihood avoid causing suffering to sentient beings by cheating them, or harming or killing them in any way.[30]

The Anguttara Nikaya III.208, states Harvey, asserts that the right livelihood does not trade in weapons, living beings, meat, alcoholic drink or poison.[30][65] The same text, in section V.177, asserts that this applies to lay Buddhists.[66] This has meant, states Harvey, that raising and trading cattle livestock for slaughter is a breach of “right livelihood” precept in the Buddhist tradition, and Buddhist countries lack the mass slaughter houses found in Western countries.[67]

Meditation group: paths 6, 7 and 8

The meditation group (“samadhi”) of the path progresses from moral restraints to training the mind.[68][69] The goal in this group of the Noble Eightfold Path is to develop clarity and insight into the nature of reality – dukkha, anicca and anatta, discard negative states and dispel avidya, ultimately attaining nirvana.[70]

Right effort

Right effort (samyag-vyāyāma / sammā-vāyāma) is presented in the Pali Canon, such as the Sacca-vibhanga Sutta as follows:[46][52]

And what is right effort?

Here the monk arouses his will, puts forth effort, generates energy, exerts his mind, and strives to prevent the arising of evil and unwholesome mental states that have not yet arisen.
He arouses his will… and strives to eliminate evil and unwholesome mental states that have already arisen. He arouses his will… and strives to generate wholesome mental state that have not yet arisen.
He arouses his will, puts forth effort, generates energy, exerts his mind, and strives to maintain wholesome mental states that have already arisen, to keep them free of delusion, to develop, increase, cultivate, and perfect them.
This is called right effort.

The unwholesome states (akusala) are described in the Buddhist texts, as those relating to thoughts, emotions, intentions, and these include pancanivarana (five hindrances) – sensual thoughts, doubts about the path, restlessness, drowsiness, and ill will of any kind.[59][71] Of these, the Buddhist traditions consider sensual thoughts and ill will needing more right effort. Sensual desire that must be eliminated by effort includes anything related to sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touch.[72] Ill will that must be eliminated by effort includes any form of aversion including hatred, anger, resentment towards anything or anyone.[72]

Right mindfulness

Right mindfulness (samyak-smṛti / sammā-sati) in the Sacca-vibhanga Sutta is explained as follows:[46][52]

And what is right mindfulness?

Here the monk remains contemplating the body as body, resolute, aware and mindful, having put aside worldly desire and sadness;
he remains contemplating feelings as feelings;
he remains contemplating mental states as mental states;
he remains contemplating mental objects as mental objects, resolute, aware and mindful, having put aside worldly desire and sadness;
This is called right mindfulness.

This factor in the Noble Eightfold Path teaches the monk to cultivate complete and constant awareness of the nature of reality as impermanent, suffering and without self.[70] The most detailed discussion of the right mindfulness in the Pali Canon is in the Satipatthana Sutta, where the emphasis is to consider the “four contemplations” – body, feelings, mind and phenomena – as just that and nothing more, and not ascribe to them any substantiality, nor self.[73][note 3]

These “four contemplations” through right mindfulness lead to the insight of the three characteristics of existence – anicca, dukkha and anatta, and cover the five skandhas(aggregates, heaps).[75]

Right concentration

Right concentration (samyak-samādhi / sammā-samādhi) is also referred to as right samadhi. Neither the Four Noble Truths nor the Noble Eightfold Path discourse, states Johannes Bronkhorst, provide details of right concentration (samadhi).[76] The explanation is to be found in the Canonical texts of Buddhism, in several Suttas, such as the following in Saccavibhanga Sutta:[46][52]

And what is right concentration?

[i] Here, the monk, detached from sense-desires, detached from unwholesome states, enters and remains in the first jhana (level of concentration, Sanskrit: dhyana), in which there is applied and sustained thinking, together with joy and pleasure born of detachment;
[ii] And through the subsiding of applied and sustained thinking, with the gaining of inner stillness and oneness of mind, he enters and remains in the second jhana, which is without applied and sustained thinking, and in which there are joy and pleasure born of concentration;
[iii] And through the fading of joy, he remains equanimous, mindful and aware, and he experiences in his body the pleasure of which the Noble Ones say: “equanimous, mindful and dwelling in pleasure”, and thus he enters and remains in the third jhana;
[iv] And through the giving up of pleasure and pain, and through the previous disappearance of happiness and sadness, he enters and remains in the fourth jhana, which is without pleasure and pain, and in which there is pure equanimity and mindfulness.
This is called right concentration.[52][77]

According to Bhikkhu Bodhi, the right concentration factor is reaching a one-pointedness of mind and unifying all mental factors, but it is not the same as “a gourmet sitting down to a meal, or a soldier on the battlefield” who also experience one-pointed concentration.[78] The difference is that the latter have a one-pointed object in focus with complete awareness directed to that object – the meal or the target, respectively. In contrast, right concentration meditative factor in Buddhism is a state of awareness without any object or subject, and ultimately unto nothingness and emptiness.[78]

Some scholars, such as Bronkhorst, question the historicity and chronology of these details. Bronkhorst states that this path may be similar to what Buddha taught, but the details and form of right concentration in particular, and possibly other factors, is likely of later scholasticism.[79][80] Bronkhorst states this is likely because Buddha could not have assumed the third stage of jhana, which includes “Noble Ones say”, since he is considered to be the first to reach the samadhi and enlightened state of nirvana, then turning the wheel of dhamma.[79] It is likely that later Buddhist scholars incorporated this, then attributed the details and the path, particularly the insights at the time of liberation, to have been discovered by the Buddha.[79]


Śrāvakayāna (Sanskrit: श्रावकयान; Pali: सावकयान; traditional Chinese: 聲聞乘; ; pinyin: Shēngwén Shèng) is one of the three yānas known to Indian Buddhism. It translates literally as the “vehicle of listeners [i.e. disciples]”. Historically it was the most common term used by Mahāyāna Buddhist texts to describe one hypothetical path to enlightenment. Śrāvakayāna is the path that meets the goals of an Arhat—an individual who achieves liberation as a result of listening to the teachings (or lineage) of a Samyaksaṃbuddha.

Isabelle Onians asserts that although “the Mahāyāna … very occasionally referred contemptuously to earlier Buddhism as the Hinayāna, the Inferior Way,” “the preponderance of this name in the secondary literature is far out of proportion to occurrences in the Indian texts.” She notes that the term Śrāvakayāna was “the more politically correct and much more usual” term used by Mahāyānists.[1] “Hīnayāna” (the “lesser vehicle”), however, was used to include both Śrāvakayāna and Pratyekabuddhayāna in contrast to the Mahāyāna.

In Early Buddhist schools

At least some of the early Buddhist schools used the concept of three vehicles including Śrāvakayāna. For example, the Vaibhāṣika Sarvāstivādins are known to have employed the outlook of Buddhist practice as consisting of the Three Vehicles:[2]

  1. Śrāvakayāna
  2. Pratyekabuddhayāna
  3. Bodhisattvayāna

The Dharmaguptakas regarded the path of a śrāvaka (śrāvakayāna) and the path of a bodhisattva (bodhisattvayāna) to be separate. One of their tenets reads, “The Buddha and those of the Two Vehicles, although they have one and the same liberation, have followed different noble paths.”[3]

Lotus Sūtra

The Lotus Sūtra (Sanskrit: Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra, literally Sutra on the White Lotus of the Sublime Dharma[1]) is one of the most popular and influential Mahayana sutras and the basis on which the Tiantai, Tendai, Cheontae, andNichiren schools of Buddhism were established. For many East Asian Buddhists, the Lotus Sūtra contains the ultimate and complete teaching of the Buddha and the reciting of the text is believed to be very auspicious.[2]

The earliest known Sanskrit title for the sūtra is the Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra, which translates to Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma.[3] In English, the shortened form Lotus Sūtra is common. The Lotus Sūtra has also been highly regarded in a number of Asian countries where Mahāyāna Buddhism has been traditionally practiced. Translations of this title into the languages of some of these countries include:

  • Sanskrit: सद्धर्मपुण्डरीक सूत्र Saddharmapuṇḍarīka Sūtra
  • Chinese: 妙法蓮華經; pinyin: Miàofǎ Liánhuá jīng, shortened to 法華經 Fǎhuá jīng
  • Japanese: (妙法蓮華経 Myōhō Renge Kyō?), Hokke-kyō, Hoke-kyō (法華経?)
  • Korean: Hangul묘법연화경; RRMyobeop Yeonhwa gyeong, shortened to Beophwa gyeong
  • Tibetan: དམ་ཆོས་པད་མ་དཀར་པོའི་མདོWylie: dam chos padma dkar po’i mdo, THL: Damchö Pema Karpo’i do
  • Vietnamese: Diệu pháp Liên hoa kinh, shortened to Pháp hoa kinh
  • Tagalog: Ang Saysayin ng Baíno

The Lotus Sūtra presents itself as a discourse delivered by the Buddha toward the end of his life. The tradition in Mahayana states that the sutras were written down during the life of the Buddha and stored for five hundred years in a nāga-realm. After this, they were reintroduced into the human realm at the time of the Fourth Buddhist Council in Kashmir.

Outline of chapters[edit]

Illustrated Lotus Sūtra handscroll,Kamakura period, c. 1257; ink, color, and gold on paper.

  • Ch. 1, Introduction – During a gathering at Vulture Peak, Gautama Buddha goes into a deep meditation, the earth shakes in six ways, and he brings forth a ray of light which illuminates thousands of “Buddha-fields”[note 1] in the east.[21][22] Bodhisattva Manjusri then states that the Buddha is about to expound his ultimate teaching.[23][24]
  • Ch. 2, Ways and Means – Shakyamuni explains his use of skillful means to adapt his teachings according to the capacities of his audience.[25] He reveals that the ultimate purpose of the Buddhas is to cause sentient beings “to obtain the insight of the Buddha” and “to enter the way into the insight of the Buddha”.[26][27][28]
  • Ch. 3, A Parable – The Buddha teaches a parable in which a father uses the promise of various toy carts to get his children out of a burning house, once they are outside, he gives them all one large cart to travel in instead. This symbolizes how the Buddha uses theThree Vehicles: Arhatship, Pratyekabuddhahood and Samyaksambuddhahood, as skilful means to liberate all beings – even though there is only one vehicle.[29] The Buddha also promises Sariputra that he will attain enlightenment.
  • Ch. 4, Faith and Understanding – The parable of the poor son and his rich father, who guides him to regain self-confidence and “recognize his own Buddha-wisdom”.[30][31]
  • Ch. 5, Parable of the plants – This parable says that the Dharma is like a great monsoon rain that nourishes many different kinds of plants who represent Śrāvakas,Pratyekabuddhas, and Bodhisattvas,[32] and all beings receiving the teachings according to their respective capacities.[33]
  • Ch. 6, Assurances of Becoming a Buddha – The Buddha prophesizes the enlightenment of Mahakasyapa, Subhuti, Mahakatyayana and Mahamaudgalyayana.
  • Ch. 7, The Magic City – The Buddha teaches a parable about a group of people seeking a great treasure who are tired of their journey and wish to quit. Their guide creates a magical phantom city for them to rest in and then makes it disappear.[34] The Buddha explains that the magic city is the provisional teachings of Buddhism and the treasure is enlightenment.
  • Ch. 8, Assurances for 500 Arhats. – 500 Arhats are assured of their future Buddhahood and they tell the parable of a man who has fallen asleep after drinking and whose friend sews a jewel into his garment. When he wakes up he continues a life of poverty without realizing he is really rich, he only discovers the jewel after meeting his old friend again.[35][36] Zimmermann noted the obvious similarity with the nine parables in the Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra that illustrate how the indwelling Buddha in sentient beings is hidden by negative mental states.[37]
  • Ch. 9, Assurances for the Trainees and Adepts.Ananda, Rahula and two thousand Śrāvakas are assured of their future Buddhahood.[38]

The floating jeweled stupa.

  • Ch. 10, Teacher of the Dharma – Presents the practices of teaching the sutra which includes accepting, embracing, reading, chanting, writing, explaining, propagating it, and living in accordance with its teachings.
  • Ch. 11, The Treasure stupa – A great jeweled stupa rises from the earth and floats in the air; a voice is heard from within praising theLotus Sūtra. It is revealed that another Buddha resides in the tower, the Buddha Prabhūtaratna (Many-Treasures) and that there are other countless Buddhas in the ten directions, who are now also summoned by the Buddha. This chapter reveals the eternal nature ofBuddhahood and the doctrine of the existence of multiple Buddhas at the same time.
  • Ch. 12, Devadatta – Through the stories of the Dragon King’s daughter and Devadatta, the Buddha teaches that everyone can become enlightened – women, animals, and even the most sinful murderers.
  • Ch. 13, Encouragement to uphold the sutra – The Buddha encourages all beings to embrace the teachings of the sutra in all times, even in the most difficult ages to come. The Buddha prophesizes that six thousand nuns who are also present will become Buddhas.
  • Ch. 14, Peace and Contentment – This chapter explains that even though life is filled with challenges, if we practice the dharma diligently through thoughts, words, and deeds, we can be peaceful, joyful and content. Virtues such as patience, gentleness, a calm mind, wisdom and charity are to be cultivated.
  • Ch. 15, Springing Up from the Earth – In this chapter countless bodhisattvas spring up from the earth, ready to teach, and the Buddha reveals that there have been innumerable bodhisattvas propagating the dharma for aeons. This confuses some disciples including Maitreya, but the Buddha affirms that he has taught all of these bodhisattvas himself.
  • Ch. 16, The eternal lifespan of the Tathagata – The Buddha explains that he is truly eternal and omniscient and he then teaches the Parable of the Excellent Physician who entices his sons into taking his medicine by feigning his death.[39]
  • Ch. 17, Merits and Virtues of enlightenment – The Buddha explains that since he has been teaching as many beings as the sands of the Ganges have been saved.
  • Ch. 18, Merits and Virtues of Joyful Acceptance – Faith in the teachings of the sutra brings much merit and lead to good rebirths.
  • Ch. 19, Merits and Virtues obtained by a Teacher of the Dharma – The relative importance of the merits of the six senses are explained by the Buddha.

Avalokiteśvara appears for the first time in the Lotus Sūtra

  • Ch. 20, The Bodhisattva Sadāparibhūta – The Buddha tells a story about the time he was a Bodhisattva called Sadāparibhūta (Never Despising) and how he treated every person he met, good or bad, with respect, always remembering that they will too become Buddhas.[40]
  • Ch. 21, The Spiritual Power of the Tathagata – Reveals that the sutra contains all of the Eternal Buddha’s secret spiritual powers. The bodhisattvas who have sprung from the earth worship the sutra and promise to propagate it.
  • Ch. 22, The Passing of the Commission – The Buddha transmits the Lotus sutra to his congregation and entrusts them with its safekeeping.[41]
  • Ch. 23, The Bodhisattva Bhaiṣajyarāja – The Buddha tells the story of the ‘Medicine king’ Bodhisattva, the story focuses on the practices of self-sacrifice (including the burning of fingers) as well the diagnosis and healing of sickness. The hearing and chanting of the Lotus sutra is also said to cure diseases. The Buddha uses various metaphors to declare that the Lotus Sutra is the king of all sutras.
  • Ch. 24, The Bodhisattva Gadgadasvara – The Bodhisattva “Wonderful Voice” appears to worship the Buddha and his story is told.
  • Ch. 25, The Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara – The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (Guanyin) whose name means ‘listening to the cries of the world’ makes an offering to the Buddha and the stupa.
  • Ch. 26, Dhāraṇī – Several Bodhisattvas offer Dhāraṇīs in order to protect those who keep and recite the Lotus Sutra.[42]
  • Ch. 27, King Wonderfully Adorned – A chapter on the story of King ‘Wonderful-Adornment’.
  • Ch. 28, Encouragement of the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra – A bodhisattva called “Universal Virtue” asks the Buddha how to preserve the sutra in the future. Samantabhadra promises to protect and guard all those who keep this sutra in the future Age of Dharma Decline.[43]


Portable shrine depicting Buddha Sakyamuni preaching the Lotus Sūtra.[44] The Walters Art Museum.

One vehicle, many skillful means

This Lotus sutra is known for its extensive instruction on the concept and usage of skillful means – (Sanskrit: upāya, Japanese: hōben), the seventh paramita or perfection of a Bodhisattva – mostly in the form of parables. The many ‘skillful’ or ‘expedient’ means and the “three vehicles” are revealed to all be part of the One Vehicle (Ekayāna), which is also the Bodhisattva path. This is also one of the first sutras to use the term Mahāyāna, or “Great Vehicle”. In the Lotus sutra, the One Vehicle encompasses so many different teachings because the Buddha’s compassion and wish to save all beings led him to adapt the teaching to suit many different kinds of people. As Paul Williams explains:

Although the corpus of teachings attributed to the Buddha, if taken as a whole, embodies many contradictions, these contradictions are only apparent. Teachings are appropriate to the context in which they are given and thus their contradictions evaporate. The Buddha’s teachings are to be used like ladders, or, to apply an age-old Buddhist image, like a raft employed to cross a river. There is no point in carrying the raft once the journey has been completed and its function fulfilled. When used, such a teaching transcends itself.[45]

The sutra emphasizes that all these seemingly different teachings are actually just skillful applications of the one dharma and thus all constitute the “One Buddha Vehicle and knowledge of all modes”. The Lotus sutra sees all other teachings are subservient to, propagated by and in the service of the ultimate truth of the One Vehicle leading to Buddhahood.[5] The Lotus Sūtra also claims to be superior to other sūtras and states that full Buddhahood is only arrived at by exposure to its teachings and skillful means. Chapter ten of the Burton Watson translation states: “…Medicine King, now I say to you, I have preached various sutras, and among those sutras the Lotus is foremost!”

The Lotus sutra is also significant because it reveals that women, evil people and even animals can be bodhisattvas and have the potential to attain full Buddhahood. It also teaches that all people equally can attain Buddhahood in their present form. That is, through the Lotus Sutra, people need neither practice austerities for countless kalpas nor wait for rebirth in a different physical form (previous teachings held that women must be reborn as men and then practice for innumerable kalpas in order to become Buddhas). Through its many stories and parables, the Lotus sutra affirms the spiritual equality of all beings.[46]

The Lotus sutra also teaches that the Buddha has many embodiments or emanations and these are the countless bodhisattva disciples. These bodhisattvas choose to remain in the world to save all beings and to keep the teaching alive. According to Gene Reeves: “Because the Buddha and his Dharma are alive in such bodhisattvas, he himself continues to be alive. The fantastically long life of the Buddha, in other words, is at least partly a function of and dependent on his being embodied in others.”[47] The Lotus sutra also teaches various dhāraṇīs or the prayers of different celestial bodhisattvas who out of compassion protect and teach all beings. The lotus flower imagery points to this quality of the bodhisattvas. The lotus symbolizes the bodhisattva who is rooted in the earthly mud and yet flowers above the water in the open air of enlightenment.[48]

The universe outlined by the Lotus sutra encompasses realms of gods, devas, dragons[note 2] and other mythological beings, requiring numerous dimensions to contain them. Buddhas are portrayed as the patient teachers of all such beings who can be bodhisattvas and will ultimately become Buddhas themselves. The radical message of the Lotus sutra is then that all beings can embody the nature of the Buddha and teach his dharma here and now.


Mahāyāna (Sanskrit for “Great Vehicle”) is one of two (or three, under some classifications) main existing branches of Buddhism and a term for classification of Buddhist philosophies and practice. The Buddhist tradition of Vajrayana is sometimes classified as a part of Mahayana Buddhism, but some scholars may consider it as a different branch altogether.[1]

According to the teachings of Mahāyāna traditions, “Mahāyāna” also refers to the path of the Bodhisattva seeking complete enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, also called “Bodhisattvayāna”, or the “Bodhisattva Vehicle”. A bodhisattva who has accomplished this goal is called a samyaksaṃbuddha, or “fully enlightened Buddha”. A samyaksaṃbuddha can establish the Dharma and lead disciples to enlightenment. Mahayana Buddhists teach that enlightenment can be attained in a single lifetime, and this can be accomplished even by a layperson.[3]

The Mahāyāna tradition is the largest major tradition of Buddhism existing today, with 53.2% of practitioners, compared to 35.8% forTheravada and 5.7% for Vajrayana in 2010.[4]

In the course of its history, Mahāyāna Buddhism spread from India to various other South, East and Southeast Asian countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, China, Taiwan, Mongolia, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Major traditions of Mahāyāna Buddhism today include Chan Buddhism, Korean Seon, Japanese Zen, Pure Land Buddhism, and Nichiren Buddhism. It may also include the Vajrayana traditions of Tiantai, Tendai, Shingon Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism, which add esoteric teachings to the Mahāyāna tradition.

According to Jan Nattier, the term Mahāyāna (“Great Vehicle”) was originally an honorary synonym for Bodhisattvayāna (“Bodhisattva Vehicle”)[5] — the vehicle of a bodhisattva seeking buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.[2] The term Mahāyāna was therefore formed independently at an early date as a synonym for the path and the teachings of the bodhisattvas. Since it was simply an honorary term for Bodhisattvayāna, the creation of the term Mahāyāna and its application to Bodhisattvayāna did not represent a significant turning point in the development of a Mahāyāna tradition.[5]

The earliest Mahāyāna texts often use the term Mahāyāna as a synonym for Bodhisattvayāna, but the term Hīnayāna is comparatively rare in the earliest sources. The presumed dichotomy between Mahāyāna and Hīnayāna can be deceptive, as the two terms were not actually formed in relation to one another in the same era.[6]

Among the earliest and most important references to the term Mahāyāna are those that occur in the Lotus Sūtra (Skt. Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra) dating between the 1st century BCE and the 1st century CE.[7] Seishi Karashima has suggested that the term first used in an earlier Gandhāri Prakrit version of the Lotus Sūtra was not the termmahāyāna but the Prakrit word mahājāna in the sense of mahājñāna (great knowing).[8][9] At a later stage when the early Prakrit word was converted into Sanskrit, this mahājāna, being phonetically ambivalent, was mistakenly converted into mahāyāna, possibly because of what may have been a double meaning in the famous Parable of the Burning House, which talks of three vehicles or carts (Skt: yāna).[note 2][8][10]

The origins of Mahāyāna are still not completely understood.[11] The earliest Western views of Mahāyāna assumed that it existed as a separate school in competition with the so-called “Hīnayāna” schools. The earliest Mahāyāna texts often depict strict adherence to the path of a bodhisattva, and engagement in the ascetic ideal of a monastic life in the wilderness, akin to the ideas expressed in theRhinoceros Sūtra.[note 3]

The earliest textual evidence of “Mahāyāna” comes from sūtras originating around the beginning of the common era. Jan Nattier has noted that in some of the earliest Mahāyāna texts such as the Ugraparipṛccha Sūtra use the term “Mahāyāna”, yet there is no doctrinal difference between Mahāyāna in this context and the early schools, and that “Mahāyāna” referred rather to the rigorous emulation ofGautama Buddha in the path of a bodhisattva seeking to become a fully enlightened buddha.[12]

There is also no evidence that Mahāyāna ever referred to a separate formal school or sect of Buddhism, but rather that it existed as a certain set of ideals, and later doctrines, for bodhisattvas.[12] Paul Williams has also noted that the Mahāyāna never had nor ever attempted to have a separate Vinaya or ordination lineage from the early schools of Buddhism, and therefore each bhikṣu or bhikṣuṇī adhering to the Mahāyāna formally belonged to an early school. Membership in these nikāyas, or monastic sects, continues today with the Dharmaguptaka nikāya in East Asia, and the Mūlasarvāstivāda nikāya in Tibetan Buddhism. Therefore, Mahāyāna was never a separate rival sect of the early schools.[13]Paul Harrison clarifies that while monastic Mahāyānists belonged to a nikāya, not all members of a nikāya were Mahāyānists.[14] From Chinese monks visiting India, we now know that both Mahāyāna and non-Mahāyāna monks in India often lived in the same monasteries side by side.[15]

The Chinese monk Yijing who visited India in the 7th century CE, distinguishes Mahāyāna from Hīnayāna as follows:[16]

Both adopt one and the same Vinaya, and they have in common the prohibitions of the five offences, and also the practice of theFour Noble Truths. Those who venerate the bodhisattvas and read the Mahayana sūtras are called the Mahāyānists, while those who do not perform these are called the Hīnayānists.

Much of the early extant evidence for the origins of Mahāyāna comes from early Chinese translations of Mahāyāna texts. These Mahāyāna teachings were first propagated into China by Lokakṣema, the first translator of Mahāyāna sūtras into Chinese during the 2nd century CE.[note 4]

A statue of Prajñāpāramitā personified, from Singhasari,East Java, Indonesia.

Earliest Mahāyāna sūtras

Several scholars have suggested that the Prajñāpāramitā sūtras, which are among the earliest Mahāyāna sūtras,[17][18] developed among theMahāsāṃghika along the Kṛṣṇa River in the Āndhra region of southern India.[19]

The earliest Mahāyāna sūtras to include the very first versions of the Prajñāpāramitā genre, along with texts concerning Akṣobhya Buddha, which were probably written down in the 1st century BCE in the south of India.[20][21] Guang Xing states, “Several scholars have suggested that the Prajñāpāramitā probably developed among the Mahāsāṃghikas in southern India, in the Āndhra country, on the Kṛṣṇa River.”[19] A.K. Warderbelieves that “the Mahāyāna originated in the south of India and almost certainly in the Āndhra country.”[22]

Anthony Barber and Sree Padma note that “historians of Buddhist thought have been aware for quite some time that such pivotally important Mahayana Buddhist thinkers as Nāgārjuna, Dignaga, Candrakīrti, Āryadeva, and Bhavaviveka, among many others, formulated their theories while living in Buddhist communities in Āndhra.”[23] They note that the ancient Buddhist sites in the lower Kṛṣṇa Valley, including Amaravati,Nāgārjunakoṇḍā and Jaggayyapeṭa “can be traced to at least the third century BCE, if not earlier.”[24] Akira Hirakawa notes the “evidence suggests that many Early Mahayana scriptures originated in South India.”[25]

Some scholars think that the earliest Mahāyāna sūtras were mainly composed in the south of India, and later the activity of writing additional scriptures was continued in the north.[note 5] However, the assumption that the presence of an evolving body of Mahāyāna scriptures implies the contemporaneous existence of distinct religious movement called “Mahāyāna”, may be a serious misstep.[note 6] Some scholars further speculate that the Prajñāpāramitā sūtras were written in response to the ultrarealism of abhidharma.[26]

Some early Mahāyāna sūtras were translated by the Kuṣāṇa monk Lokakṣema, who came to China from the kingdom of Gandhāra. His first translations to Chinese were made in the Chinese capital of Luoyang between 178 and 189 CE.[27] Some Mahāyāna sūtras translated during the 2nd century CE include the following:[28]

  1. Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra
  2. Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra
  3. Larger Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra
  4. Akṣobhyatathāgatasyavyūha Sūtra
  5. Ugraparipṛccha Sūtra
  6. Mañjuśrīparipṛcchā Sūtra
  7. Drumakinnararājaparipṛcchā Sūtra
  8. Śūraṅgama Samādhi Sūtra
  9. Bhadrapāla Sūtra
  10. Ajātaśatrukaukṛtyavinodana Sūtra
  11. Kāśyapaparivarta Sūtra
  12. Lokānuvartana Sūtra
  13. An early sūtra connected to the Avataṃsaka Sūtra

This corpus of texts often emphasizes ascetic practices and forest dwelling, absorbed in states of meditative concentration.[29]

Harrison points to the enthusiasm in the Lokakṣema sūtra corpus for the extra ascetic practices, for dwelling in the forest, and above all for states of meditative absorption (samādhi). Meditation and meditative states seem to have occupied a central place in early Mahāyāna, certainly because of their spiritual efficacy but also because they may have given access to fresh revelations and inspiration.


The Mahāyāna tradition holds that pursuing only the release from suffering and attainment of Nirvāṇa is too narrow an aspiration, because it lacks the motivation of actively resolving to liberate all other sentient beings from Saṃsāra. One who engages in this path is called a bodhisattva. Bodhisattvas could reach nirvana, but they believed it was more important to help others on their path of finding nirvana rather than committing fully to nirvana themselves.[42]

The defining characteristic of a bodhisattva is bodhicitta, the intention to achieve omniscient Buddhahood (Trikaya) as fast as possible, so that one may benefit infinite sentient beings. Sometimes the term bodhisattva is used more restrictively to refer to those sentient beings on the grounds. As Ananda Coomaraswamy notes, “The most essential part of the Mahayana is its emphasis on the Bodhisattva ideal, which replaces that of thearhat, or ranks before it.”[43] According to Mahāyāna teachings, being a high-level bodhisattva involves possessing a mind of great compassion and transcendent wisdom (Skt. prajñā) to realize the reality of inherent emptiness and dependent origination. Mahāyāna teaches that the practitioner will finally realize the attainment of Buddhahood.[citation needed]

Six perfections (Skt. pāramitā) are traditionally required for bodhisattvas:[citation needed]

  1. dāna-pāramitā: the perfection of giving
  2. śīla-pāramitā: the perfection on behavior and discipline
  3. kṣānti-pāramitā: the perfection of forbearance
  4. vīrya-pāramitā: the perfection of vigor and diligence
  5. dhyāna-pāramitā: the perfection of meditation
  6. prajñā-pāramitā: the perfection of transcendent wisdom

Expedient means

Main article: Upaya

Expedient means[44] (Skt. upāya) is found in the Lotus Sutra, one of the earliest dated Mahāyāna sūtras, and is accepted in all Mahāyāna schools of thought. It is any effective method that aids awakening. It does not necessarily mean that some particular method is “untrue” but is simply any means or stratagem that is conducive to spiritual growth and leads beings to awakening and nirvana. Expedient means could thus be certain motivational words for a particular listener or even the noble eightfold path itself. Basic Buddhism (what Mahāyāna would term śravakayāna or pratyekabuddhayāna) is an expedient method for helping people begin the noble Buddhist path and advance quite far. But the path is not wholly traversed, according to some Mahāyāna schools, until the practitioner has striven for and attained Buddhahood for the liberation of all other sentient beings from suffering.

Some scholars have stated that the exercise of expedient means, “the ability to adapt one’s message to the audience, is also of enormous importance in the Pāli canon.”[note 13] In fact the Pāli term upāya-kosalla does occur in the Pāli Canon, in the Sangiti Sutta of the Digha Nikāya.[45]


Kleshas (Sanskrit: kleśa; Pali: kilesa; Standard Tibetan: nyon mongs,) in Buddhism, are mental states that cloud the mind and manifest in unwholesome actions. Kleshas include states of mind such as anxiety, fear, anger, jealousy, desire, depression, etc. Contemporary translators use a variety of English words to translate the term kleshas, such as: afflictions, defilements, destructive emotions, disturbing emotions, negative emotions, mind poisons, etc.

In the contemporary Mahayana and Theravada Buddhist traditions, the three kleshas of ignorance, attachment, and aversion are identified as the root or source of all other kleshas. These are referred to as the three poisons in the Mahayana tradition, or as the three unwholesome roots in the Theravada tradition.

While the early Buddhist texts of the Pali canon do not specifically enumerate the three root kleshas, over time the three poisons(and the kleshas generally) came to be seen as the very roots of samsaric existence.

charnel ground

A charnel ground (Devanagari: श्मशान; Romanized Sanskrit: śmaśāna; Tibetan pronunciation: durtrö; Tibetan: དུར་ཁྲོདWylie: dur khrod),[1] in concrete terms, is an above-ground site for the putrefaction of bodies, generally human, where formerly living tissue is left to decompose uncovered. Although it may have demarcated locations within it functionally identified as burial grounds,cemeteries and crematoria, it is distinct from these as well as from crypts or burial vaults.

In a religious sense, it is also a very important location for sadhana and ritual activity for Indo-Tibetan traditions of Dharmaparticularly those traditions iterated by the Tantric view such as Kashmiri Shaivism, Kaula tradition, Esoteric Buddhism, Vajrayana,Mantrayana, Dzogchen, and the sadhana of Chöd, Phowa and Zhitro, etc. The charnel ground is also an archetypal liminality that figures prominently in the literature and liturgy and as an artistic motif in Dharmic Traditions and cultures iterated by the moreantinomian and esoteric aspects of traditional Indian culture.