After a lapse, I have resumed my reading of the Lotus Sutra. Actually, I think I am “reading” too many Buddhist texts and commentaries all at once, and that tends to interfere with the flow. But while reading Chapter 8 in the Lotus Sutra, the “Receipt of Prophecy by Five Hundred Disciples,” I found a passage that immediately got me thinking of the recent discussion about alcohol use in general by lay practitioners and by some monastics.
For example, Nathan at Dangerous Harvests has this post about a monk who has a bar where he pours drinks while dispensing Dhamma. The intention appears to be reaching a younger demographic and attract it to Buddhism, even if it means the temporary encouragement of breaking the precepts. And at Sweep the Dust, Push the Dirt, John has a post about alcohol consumption in general by the laity that also included a video of a rapping monk.
These methods could be reasonably explained as “expedient devices,” a phrase frequently mentioned in the Lotus Sutra. The idea, as I understand it, is that methods may be employed that on the surface may appear to be Wrong View, but which are justified by the end goal of presenting the Dhamma to as many people as possible and convert them to the “pure Dhamma;” a sort of Buddhist style of the ends justifying the means.
The relevant passage in the Lotus Sutra that got me thinking about this follows:
“Inwardly concealing their bodhisattva conduct and outwardly showing themselves to be voice hearers, though of slight desires and disgusted with birth-and-death, they are in fact, and of their own accord, purifying Buddha lands. Showing the multitude that they (themselves) have the three poisons (greed, hatred, delusion), and also displaying the signs of wrong views, my disciples, too, in the same way, by resort to expedient devices rescue the beings.”
This is a very interesting passage to me for a couple reasons. One is the simplicity of the idea that if you want to save beings from suffering, you must go to where they are suffering. This concept is not uniquely Buddhist. Jesus, for example, intentionally hung out with the poor, money lenders, prostitutes and lepers – all classes of people that were viewed with disdain and fear by the larger “pious” population. Jesus, as we recalled, allegedly changed water into wine so that a wedding party could carry on.
The other reason, however, is the danger inherent in such an “expedient device.” The Buddha mentions that these “future Buddhas” that he is talking about are “disgusted” with the cycle of birth and death despite the fact that they still possess “slight desires.” That, in my view, is a dangerous concept for a deluded mind to grasp onto. The key, it seems, to being a successful bodhisattva attempting anything like this is to have clearly cultivated a personal disgust with the cycle of birth and death, because without that sentiment but still possessing “slight desires,” venturing such a path of liberating others and bringing them to the true Dhamma would surely fail with one’s own demise.
Even those listening to the Buddha talk of this admit their own delusions at thinking they had already found liberation.
Now, of course, if this passage is the origin of such “expediencies” such as the monk with the bar, that would mean one needs to accept the validity of the Lotus Sutra, that what it states is indeed what the Buddha said.
I am interested in your thoughts about this. Is there a test for us to employ to see if such teachers are sincere and not just fellow schmucks spreading delusion? Or is the Lotus Sutra itself a form of expediency, solely written by authors who wanted some loopholes in the Dhamma to accommodate their own personal delusions, and not at all related to anything the Buddha taught?
I'm a content director for a television company, guiding content on Web sites. I'm an avid listener of Frank Zappa and a practicing Buddhist who follows the Theravada vehicle. I'm an insatiable traveler who calls Chicago home.