The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Sutra: An Interview with the Editor
The Buddhist Text Translation Society’s newest release is The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Sūtra, known as one of the most significant sūtras in the Mahāyāna Buddhist tradition with its teaching of the One Buddha Vehicle and emphasis that one day, all will realize Buddhahood. It is currently available as a bilingual sūtra text only, Volume XV, available on Amazon and our website, and as a fourteen volume set that contains the entire sūtra with unabridged commentary lectured by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, also available on Amazon. The sūtra text only Volume XV is designed to be a companion text to the commentary set.
In this interview, we hear from Justin Howe, the proofreader and main editor of this new release, who is also a teaching fellow at the International Institute of the Translation of Buddhist Texts (IITBT) and a graduate from Dharma Realm Buddhist University (DRBU).
BTTS: When you were doing the translation work, did you happen upon any insights or learn any touching lessons from Master Hsuan Hua’s commentary?
Justin: I can’t think of anything in particular, but I think the commentary had a lot of impact on me over time. I read through the whole thing multiple times while working on it, and revisiting the same stories and teachings several times was very interesting, to see how they developed in my mind and struck me in new ways, or what struck me before didn’t strike me again, or what didn’t stick out to me the first time jumped out later.
Master Hua has a very straightforward way of talking, that can move instantly from the most general to the most specific; sometimes what he said seemed to be for me exactly, and other times for everyone, and sometimes for someone else entirely. The commentaries are really an amazing adventure. I believe it’s worth it to read them from front to back and see how the assembly develops over time; you can be like an archaeologist and really feel like you’re living it along with them in a certain sense. (By the way, the first chapter lectured was actually the Pumen Pin (普門品), so if you want to read it in chronological order, you have to start there.) There is a shared vocabulary, a shared spirit that builds up over time, and you can really enter into that. Maybe that’s what Many Treasures Buddha likes so much about the Lotus Sūtra. He gets to go from assembly to assembly and enter into that energy time and time again.
I really love how Master Hua lectures the word wonderful as part of the title. He lectures it for quite a long time, while mentioning that Master Zhiyi lectured it for ninety days and still couldn’t exhaust it. For me, this part of the commentaries sets the tone for everything else; for me, The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Sūtra is all about wonder.
BTTS: Do you have any words you’d leave with potential readers?
Justin: In my experience, the Lotus Sūtra has a very mysterious (to us) way of working. If we knew more, of course maybe it wouldn’t be so mysterious. To me it’s a lot like the Bodhisattvas emerging from the earth; they were there all along, for such a long time, working, cultivating, and nobody knew about it. The Lotus Sūtra works on us like that. We have to be prepared at any time for something special to begin pouring out of (or into?) our hearts all of a sudden: something very unexpected and wonderful.
BTTS: Is there anything you would like to share about the translation work with the readers?
Justin: We did our best, and I’m sure there are many ways it could be improved. Please regard the work kindly, in the spirit of our intent, and overlook our faults.
- Buddhist Text