The Lotus Sutra is one of the most important Buddhist texts, but for the uninitiated reader, it can make little to no sense. With its cumbersome prose and ostentatious scenes, this ancient sutra evades any of our contemporary efforts to interpret it in simple terms. Yet so much in this sutra—the teaching of the one vehicle, the Buddha’s use of skillful means, and the revolutionary idea that there can be more than one buddha in the world at a time—has become fundamental and foundational material for the Mahayana Buddhist traditions in East Asia.
Our guests are two of the foremost scholars in Buddhist studies, Donald Lopez, Jr., Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan, and Jacqueline Stone, who recently retired from her position as Professor of Japanese Religions at Princeton University. They have written a chapter-by-chapter guide to the Lotus Sutra called Two Buddhas Seated Side by Side: A Guide to the Lotus Sutra (October 2019, Princeton University Press). The book is a highly readable commentary and introduction to the sutra that flips between ancient India, when the sutra was written, and medieval Japan, when it took on a new meaning for the Buddhist priest and reformationist Nichiren.
Here, Stone and Lopez sit down with Tricycle Editor and Publisher James Shaheen to discuss the issues, such as religious meaning, reinvention, and adaptation, that this book brings to the surface.