Miss You Professor Folkart
The Lotus Sutra, at least according to some authorities,
was written at about the time of the Buddha, and, as sutras go, it was
quite large. Also, it was considered to be a highly advanced form of
Buddhist teaching. It was only taught to the Buddha’s most prized
disciples. The Buddha taught only “perfect wisdom,” that is, “right
teachings” were taught to the “right disciples” at the “right time.”
In other words, the Buddha taught only what the disciple could comprehend.
It was commonly believed that this “magical ability” to teach effectively to
all who sincerely listened, set the Buddha apart from all other
religious leaders. The Lotus Sutra was unique among sutras because the
Buddha reserved it’s teachings for only the most advanced of his disciples.
Reading the Lotus Sutra, at times, for me, was like reading a comic
book. At other times, though, it was like reading the mind of the
Buddha. It had a little bit of everything in it. It also had a lot
about “who can understand what when.” I’ll leave the heady
interpretations to the Buddhist scholars, but what I could not accept
was the claim by the monk, Nichiren, that the dharma (knowledge) that
led to enlightenment was complete in the recitation of the title of
the Lotus Sutra. The recitation of–Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, or Homage to
the Sutra of the Lotus of the Marvelous Law– was enough to guarantee
one’s enlightenment. According to the practitioners of Nichiren
Shoshu, chanting nam myoho renge kyo was, in the age of Mappo, the
only “ticket available for enlightenment” because the Dharma of Decline had tainted all other Buddhist teachings. For the disciples of Nichiren Shoshu, all other
Buddhist dharma was obsolete, so chant, chant, chant,–until the cows come home.
This nasty mix of beliefs (a militant history also accompanied
Nichiren’s proselytizing), turned me off to the Nichiren Shoshu
religion. When I dropped out of the group, I was left with one
disappointment–my relationship with Jean ended, but I stayed in
her yoga class even though it felt a bit awkward until the last class. Jean
was the best yoga instructor I ever had. Something else felt a bit awkward, too.
At work, doing japa, my nam myoho renge kyo mantra made me uncomfortable, so
I decided to switch to the Tibetan mantra of compassion, om mani padme hum, but
after chanting nam myoho renge kyo for ten years, it was difficult to stay focused on
the new mantra. “What the hell,” I thought, “mantras are only tools anyway. Why should sound syllables matter? The measure of success is keeping the mind focused.” So, for me, it was back to chanting (thinking) nam myoho renge kyo over and over
and over again and again and again and again!
Immersed in all this fuss over “Who’s Right,” I was ready to move on!
When a new semester at school rolled around, I enrolled in a
Hindu religion class. I was familiar with some of the concepts
already, but I wanted to check out how the new professor taught the
course. My old professor, Professor Folkart, was on sabbatical in
India doing post doctorate work on the Jain religion, so there was a new guy
teaching his Asian religion courses. (Sadly, my professor never
returned to CMU. While riding a motorcycle in India he was killed by a
hit and run truck driver.)