Since the mid-20th century, Buddhism has become increasingly popular in North America. This would seem to be a great opportunity for traditional Asian Buddhist lineages to fulfill the mandate of the Buddha, who told his monks: “Go now and wander for the welfare and happiness of many, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, welfare and happiness of gods and men. Teach the Dhamma that is good in the beginning, good in the middle and good in the end, with the meaning and the letter.” Those Buddhists who consider themselves devotees of the Lotus Sūtra in particular should be seeing the openness to Buddhism among many in formerly non-Buddhist countries as a chance to incur great merit by sharing their teachings and practices, for in the Lotus Sūtra the Buddha says, “Needless to say, those who hear this sutra, cause others to hear it, keep it, cause others to keep it, copy it, cause others to copy it … will be able to obtain immeasurable merits.” Unfortunately for traditional schools of Asian Buddhism, and for the Lotus Sūtra based traditions in particular, the opportunity is not as great as it might seem. While there are those in North America and elsewhere in the English speaking world that may indeed be open to Buddhism, this openness is very selective and in fact a majority of these potential new Buddhists are only open to those forms of Buddhism that can accommodate and remain meaningful within a secular and scientific, often bluntly atheistic, worldview. This means that more devotional forms of Buddhism, and especially those forms of Buddhism heavily rooted in traditional Buddhist cosmology, such as the Lotus Sūtra, will have a much more challenging time making the case that they have anything of value to offer secularized and even atheistic spiritual seekers. The question I wish to address in this paper is whether it is possible for more devotional and cosmological forms of Buddhism, and in particular the Lotus Sūtra, to make a case for its continued relevance to agnostic and atheistic Buddhists.
According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2007, 0.7% of the population of the United States consider themselves Buddhists. Of these a majority are Euro-Americans who practice some form of Zen, Theravada, or Tibetan Buddhism. These new Buddhists are also more likely than their Christian counterparts to have a post-graduate education as 26% of the Buddhists surveyed had post-graduate education in contrast to, for instance, members of mainline churches of whom only 14% reported a post-graduate education. Here are the relevant passages from the Pew report:
Only about a third (32%) of Buddhists in the United States are Asian; a majority (53%) are white, and in sharp contrast to Islam and Hinduism, Buddhism in America is primarily made up of native-born adherents, whites and converts. The Buddhist tradition (0.7% of the American population) is made up of several distinct groups, the largest of which is Zen Buddhism.
Of those the Pew Research Center states:
… more than half of Buddhists (0.7% of the overall adult population) belong to one of three major groups within Buddhism: Zen, Theravada or Tibetan Buddhism.”
In regard to education the survey results state:
“Nearly half of Hindus in the U.S., one-third of Jews and a quarter of Buddhists have obtained post-graduate education, compared with only about one-in-ten of the adult population overall.”
In light of these statistics, why is it that Zen, Theravada, and Tibetan Buddhism have attracted the most converts over the years? The reason is that these three traditions present to Americans forms of silent sitting meditation practices that do not necessarily need to be explicitly associated with exotic or ancient cosmologies and ritual practices. It is not that Zen, Tibetan, or even Theravada Buddhism do not have rich cosmologies or ritual practices, but that Americans are seeking particular meditation practices derived from those traditions in a way that downplays cosmology and ritual. It would seem that the more these practices can be disassociated from other elements of traditional Buddhist teachings and practices the better. As Richard Seager observes about American Buddhist converts in Buddhism in America:
Its demographic base is overwhelmingly white, usually college or university-educated Euro-Americans drawn from the cohort of seekers who turned east in the 1960’s… Its practice of choice is seated meditation as drawn primarily from the Zen, Tibetan Buddhist, and Theravada traditions, three of the four Buddhist worlds in which most Beat/Hip-era seekers were eventually drawn. The fourth was Soka Gakkai, which, despite its early core of countercultural adherents, socially engaged orientation, and diversity, is not generally seen to be a part of this mainstream due, apparently, to its Nichiren chanting practice and its political engagement in postwar Japan.
Silent seated meditation as a practice is something that well educated secular people in can take up without feeling that they have to buy into any ancient creeds or cosmologies or even necessarily commit themselves to any hierarchical organization. For the most part, these are people who have left behind the creeds and religious institutions that they grew up in or that their parents or grandparents grew up in. They are not inclined to take up anyone else’s cosmologies, dogmas, or rituals. As Owen Flanagan put it in The Bodhisattva’s Brain: Buddhism Naturalized: “Many Westerners are attracted to Buddhism because it offers one way to be “spiritual but not religious,” the current favored answer to the religious question on social networking sites.” There is a considerable difference between the sensibilities of those who are taking up Buddhism for the first time and those who have grown up Buddhist in traditional Buddhist cultures or in Buddhist families. Richard Seager offers a useful summary of their differences:
The Buddhism of immigrants tends to remain informed by the rich cosmological worldviews of Buddhist Asia. Rebirth and karma are often treated as existential facts, bodhisattvas as dynamic, personalized forces or cosmic entities. Liberation and awakening are essentially religious aspirations and rituals often retain an unambiguous sense of being efficacious. For many converts, however, the dharma is becoming integrated with a more secular outlook on life. Many have implicitly or explicitly abandoned the idea of rebirth. Cosmic bodhisattvas tend to be regarded as metaphors, rituals as personal and collective means of expression. Traditional doctrine and philosophy often take a back seat to inspiration and creativity. The transcendental goal of practice itself is often psychologized or reoriented to social transformation. Stephen Batchelor, a British Buddhist influential in convert circles in this country, has argued that the dharma in the West ought to become a “Buddhism without beliefs,” which he characterizes in his book by that title as an “existential, therapeutic, and liberating agnosticism,” a very different kind of Buddhism than that found within most immigrant communities.
What modern secular Buddhists are looking for is Buddhism trimmed of the supernatural. This kind of Buddhism is what Owen Flanagan, a professor of philosophy at Duke University, calls “naturalized.” What exactly is naturalism?:
Naturalism comes in many varieties, the entry-level union card – David Hume is our hero – expresses solidarity with this motto: “Just say no to the supernatural.” Rebirths, heavens, hells, creator gods, teams of gods, village demons, miracles, divine retributions in the form of plagues, earthquakes, tsunamis are things naturalists don’t believe in. What there is, and all there is, is natural stuff, and everything that happens has some set of natural causes that produce it – although we may not be able to figure out what these causes are or were. Why be a naturalist? World historical evidence suggests that naturalism, vague as it is, keeps being vindicated while the zones “explained” by the supernatural get smaller everyday. Naturalism is a good bet.
Since the late 19th century one of the attractions of Buddhism for people in the West has been its supposed compatibility with modernity, reason, and science. There are certainly ways of reading the historical Buddha’s key teachings, such as the four noble truths and dependent origination, that do not demand literal belief in karma, rebirth, or other features of the pre-modern Buddhist worldview. Still, I think it is disingenuous to claim that those pre-modern elements have not been integral to just about all forms of traditional Asian Buddhism and that they were there from the start – in the discourses of the Nikāyas and the Āgamas. On the other hand, Buddhism has also skillfully adapted and transformed itself as it has entered into new cultures with very different worldviews – such as the Confucian and Taoist milieu of China wherein karma and rebirth not only did not make sense but were originally ridiculed by the Confucian intelligentsia. In the past century Buddhism has been entering Christian countries or at least post-Christian countries, and there have been many conferences, dialogues, and papers written about the encounter between Buddhism and Christianity. However, those who have shown real interest in Buddhism as a viable philosophy, practice, or way of life have not so much been Christians (much less conservative ones) but those whose worldviews have been shaped by modernity, naturalism, and secular humanism. Now even in the time of Śākyamuni Buddha there were “naturalists” or materialists, the Cārvākas or Lokāyatas. The Buddha repudiated the materialism of these early materialists, and in any case it was not the prevailing view of his culture. The situation now is very different. As Linda Heuman put it, “In entering modernity, Buddhism has crossed a boundary of a nature entirely different from any geographical, linguistic, and cultural barriers it has navigated historically. Buddhism has entered a secular age, and that’s not just new soil—it’s a whole new ecosystem.”
I do not think, however, that this is just a matter of Buddhism adapting itself to the sensibilities of Westerners in North America, Europe, or Australia. Modernity is not confined to East or West. In fact, many new religious movements that have arisen in East Asia over the past century have been billing themselves as forms of Buddhist humanism. Certainly the pre-modern cosmology of Buddhism makes no more literal sense to educated office workers in Tokyo than it does to their counterparts in Los Angeles, New York, London, or Paris. I believe that the question of whether Buddhism can adapt itself to those whose views are grounded in scientific naturalism, or whether it should, is not something that only pertains to the future of Buddhism in Western countries but to the future of Asian Buddhism as well. Here is how Owen Flanagan states the question:
I thought this an opportune time to introduce my fellow philosophers, as well as the many scientific naturalists who like me are allergic to hocus pocus, to a suitably deflated secular Buddhism, what I call Buddhism naturalized. Buddhism, like Plato and Aristotle’s philosophies, is a comprehensive philosophy. It contains a metaphysic, an epistemology, and an ethics – a way of conceiving the human predicament, human nature, and human flourishing – that is deep and not simply superstitious nonsense. Now some parts of Buddhism are superstitious nonsense, so there was also the prospect of asking this question: Is it possible to take an ancient comprehensive philosophy like Buddhism, subtract the hocus pocus, and have a worthwhile philosophy for twenty-first century scientifically informed secular thinkers?
Owen Flanagan and other Buddhist practitioners like Stephen Batchelor, author of Buddhism Without Beliefs and Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist, believe that it is possible to extract from traditional Buddhism something that will make sense to atheists and “scientifically informed secular thinkers” once the traditional cosmology and metaphysical claims about karma and rebirth are left behind or reinterpreted as metaphors. You will also see this kind of thinking in the writings of the punk Zen master Brad Warner, author of Hardcore Zen, and also Brad’s teacher Gudo Wafu Nishijima. Besides books by contemporary Buddhist teachers and other interested parties there are also countless websites dealing with the theme of reconciling Buddhism to secular humanism, scientific naturalism and outright atheism (in the sense of rejecting the supernatural and not just merely a monotheistic deity) such as thesecularbuddhist.com, progressivebuddhism.blogspot.com, thenaturalbuddhist.blogspot.com, existentialbuddhist.com, and zennaturalism.blogspot.com to name just a few. Now certainly this movement to create a secular, atheist, or naturalistic Buddhism is not monolithic and it has many detractors and critics. My point is that for many modern people, and not just in the English speaking world, there is an ongoing effort to reevaluate Buddhism in the light of scientific naturalism so that secular humanists and atheists who are drawn to Buddhist ideas and practices can develop a form of Buddhism compatible to their sensibilities.
There are many questions that arise from all this. Can the Dharma really be reconciled with scientific naturalism without violating its integrity? For that matter, what is integral to the Buddha Dharma and what is not? Which traditions have the most to gain or the most to lose from this project to naturalize Buddhism so that it can offer something to atheists and materialists? These are all big and worthwhile questions in my opinion. Here I will focus on just one area, one that I find of great personal concern as a North American convert to Nichiren Buddhism who has been ordained in the Nichiren Shū and commissioned to help propagate the teaching and practice of the Lotus Sūtra in the San Francisco Bay Area. What I want to explore is how Owen Flanagan’s question about the naturalizing of Buddhism applies to the Lotus Sūtra and those traditions inspired by it. Let me rephrase his question here: Is it possible to take the Lotus Sūtra and those teaching and practices inspired by it, subtract the hocus pocus, and have a worthwhile philosophy for twenty-first century scientifically informed secular thinkers?
The Lotus Sūtra is a particularly problematic text in regard to the naturalizing of Buddhism because it does not deal in pragmatic explanations of meditative praxis nor does it explicate Buddhist philosophical or psychological insights in a discursive manner. The late Senchu Murano (a Nichien Shū bishop and translator) said in regard to it, “It should be noted that in literary form the Lotus Sūtra is a vast apocalypse.” According to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, an apocalypse is “one of the Jewish and Christian writings of 200 b.c. to a.d. 150 marked by pseudonymity, symbolic imagery, and the expectation of an imminent cosmic cataclysm in which God destroys the ruling powers of evil and raises the righteous to life in a messianic kingdom.” According to John J. Collins:
Apocalypticism is a term derived from apocalypse, the Gk. word for revelation and the name of the last book of the Bible. There has been extensive debate about the terminology. There is general agreement that the main corpus of Jewish apocalyptic literature was produced ca. 200 BC – AD 100… The position taken here is that an apocalypse is defined by both form and content: as a genre of revelatory literature, mediated by an angel or heavenly being, which is concerned with a transcendent world populated by angels and with transcendent eschatology which has a personal as well as cosmic dimension.
Considering these definitions of apocalyptic, I think Senchu Murano was correct in referring to the Lotus Sūtra as a Buddhist form of this kind of religious literature. Certainly the Lotus Sūtra does not predict any kind of “imminent cosmic cataclysm” or deal in revelations given (mediated or otherwise) by a monotheistic deity, but in other respects there are many similarities. The sūtra was compiled between the first century BCE and the 2nd century CE; it is certainly pseudonymous though in form it begins with the Buddha’s attendant Ananda relating an alleged discourse by Śākyamuni Buddha; symbolic imagery is abundant; its central image or act is the revelation of the One Vehicle teaching and the Buddha’s practically unquantifiable lifespan as told by a Buddha who is clearly no longer merely the historical Buddha; the setting of the sūtra begins and ends in this world but the central revelation occurs in a kind of timeless and placeless time and place called the “Ceremony in the Air” in T’ien-t’ai and Nichiren Buddhism; the dramatis personae are gods, dragons, demons, and other supernatural creatures; and though it does not deal with a definitive end of the world, it does contain many predictions about the corrupt latter age of the Dharma when Buddhists, particularly the devotees of the Lotus Sūtra, will be persecuted, as well as predictions concerning the future attainment of buddhahood by all those who hear the Buddha or even just encounter the Lotus Sūtra and praise it. The verses of chapter 16 even refer to those who mistakenly perceive the world as ending in a great conflagration – even though the reality being asserted is that the Buddha’s land (the true nature of this world) is peaceful and indestructible. In regard to these predictions of persecution, promises of the future attainment of buddhahood, fears of a final world ending conflagration, and assertion of the true nature of this world as a pure land that will ultimately be revealed it could be said that the Lotus Sūtra does in fact present a Buddhist eschatology as well. Herein lies the problem. In North America and Western Europe, apocalyptic literature (such as the New Testament’s Book of Revelations) is largely downplayed or outright ignored in mainstream churches, laughed at or derided by skeptics and atheists. Fundamentalists, especially those who are dispensationalists, may look to it for predictions of the future (as the popularity of the Left Behind series of books shows), but in the mainstream culture such apocalyptic literature seems to have little power other than to inspire horror movies like the Omen. If even the Book of Revelations no longer holds the interest and imagination, much less the belief, of the modern West where it has been a part of the culture for two millennia, than what chance does a Buddhist apocalypse like the Lotus Sūtra have to attract and inspire those in modern non-Buddhist countries who, if they have any interest at all, are only attracted to forms of Buddhism compatible with secularism and scientific naturalism?
I do not think that the Lotus Sūtra or those traditions based upon it will gain any adherents by trying to convince newcomers to Buddhism that there really are literal Buddhist versions of heaven and hell above and below us centered around Mt. Sumeru, or that there is a Ceremony in the Air presided over by an Eternal Buddha that has been ongoing for millennia at Mt. Grdhrakūta in India. Fortunately, neither the Lotus Sūtra nor its modern adherents demand that it be taken literally. Senchu Murano, for instance, quite forthrightly called the events and images of the Lotus Sūtra a fantasy. “The Pure World of the Original and Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha is a fantasy of the Lotus Sūtra. A fantasy may not be real, but it sometimes portrays the truth more eloquently than reality.” In 13th century Japan, Nichiren taught in such a way that the six worlds of transmigration (the hells, hungry ghosts, animals, fighting demons, humanity, and the heavens) found in the Lotus Sūtra could be related to as aspects of the human condition. In his most important treatise, Kanjin Honzon-shō (Spiritual Contemplation and the Focus of Devotion), Nichiren observed:
As we often look at each other’s faces, we notice our facial expression changes from time to time. It is full of delight, anger, or calm sometimes; but other times it changes to greed, ignorance, or flattery. Rage represents the hells, greed – hungry ghosts, ignorance – animals, perversity – fighting demons, delight – gods, and calm – humanity. Thus we see six worlds of illusion in the countenance of people, from the hells to the worlds of the gods.
I would be wary, however, of assuming that medieval Buddhists like Nichiren understood these worlds and beings as only psychological realities. Like pre-modern Christians, pre-modern Buddhists understood that one could approach scripture on many levels and that the literal meaning was not the only one. Medieval Christians interpreted the Bible in terms of the literal meaning, the allegorical meaning, the moral meaning, and anagogical meaning, thus relating a given passage to historical events, and various metaphorical meanings relating to faith, morals and eschatology. All of these interpretations would be seen as complimentary and in no way contradictory. Putting it simply, they did not view the Bible as either literally true or figuratively true, but as both literally and figuratively true. In the same way, Nichiren could relate to the six worlds (actually he was speaking of ten including the “worlds” of the arhats, pratyekabuddhas, bodhisattvas and buddhas) as both mental states and as literal realms inhabited by mundane and supernatural beings wherein one could be reborn. Now those who can only find a naturalized form of Buddhism meaningful will not be able to accept the literal reading of the Lotus Sūtra, but at least the Buddhist traditions based on the Lotus Sūtra have always pointed to meanings beyond the literal surface meaning of the text.
While it may be true that the Lotus Sūtra can be understood figuratively, the question can still be asked by the Buddhist atheist or naturalist why anyone should bother to wade through its metaphors, symbols, and parables when there are other forms of Buddhism that dispense with myth and cosmology. Here I would like to suggest that if the Buddhist insights about life and human nature are indeed of any value or worth, then they should be appreciated in their different modes of presentation – both in the form of the kind of clinical analysis of discrete mental states that one finds in the abhidharma literature and in the form of symbols, mythic narrative, parables, and cosmic vision such as one finds in Mahāyāna texts like the Lotus Sūtra. There is a power in myth and symbol to convey truth that does not depend upon taking such myths and symbols literally, as any student of literature knows full well. Sangharakshita explains in the following passage of his own commentary on the Lotus Sūtra the value of both the language of concepts and language of images:
So the Mahāyāna literally speaks the language of the people it is addressing – Tibetan, Chinese, English, or whatever is appropriate. But more than this, it also tries to speak the appropriate language in a metaphorical sense. Metaphorically speaking, whether we speak English, Hindi, Greek, or whatever, we express ourselves in two main languages: the language of concepts and the language of images. The language of concepts is the language of intellect and rational thought, the language of science and philosophy. But the language of images is the language of the imagination, the language of the emotions. It’s the language of poetry, the language of myth and symbol, simile and metaphor. Concepts address the conscious mind, but images appeal to the unconscious depths that – as modern psychology has made us aware – are within us all.
I’d like to propose that the myths and symbols of the Lotus Sūtra are valuable even to modern Buddhists who embrace scientific naturalism or atheism because they can function as a kind of GUI or “graphical user interface” that can enable people to more easily relate to and assimilate the more abstract Buddhist teachings and insights concerning the human condition and the nature of reality. To clarify what I mean, here is a definition of GUI:
In computing, a graphical user interface (GUI, commonly pronounced gooey) is a type of user interface that allows users to interact with electronic devices using images rather than text commands.
A GUI represents the information and actions available to a user through graphical icons and visual indicators such as secondary notation, as opposed to text-based interfaces, typed command labels or text navigation.
The Lotus Sūtra opens describing an array of human followers of the Buddha and supernatural beings: celestial bodhisattvas, devas (gods), dragons, asuras (titans), yakshas (nature spirits), and others. In T’ien-t’ai and Nichiren Buddhism those assembled are the denizens of what are called the ten worlds that include six worlds of transmigration and four higher worlds of increasing liberation and compassion. In Nichiren Buddhism, the central focus of devotion is depicted as a calligraphic mandala featuring the names of representatives of these ten worlds all centered around the sacred title (J. daimoku) of the Lotus Sūtra, inscribed in such a way that characters of the sacred title seem to be reaching out to embrace all ten worlds. Those seeking a Buddhism that is compatible with atheism or scientific naturalism may find all of this very off-putting and dismiss it as superstitious nonsense, the remnants of an outmoded cosmology. What I hope they may come to understand is that these beings, worlds, and symbols are trying to convey something about the full range of human experience, how it all interrelates, and how it may all be illuminated through Buddhist practice. One need not take any of it literally to find meaning and value in working with these images and symbols.
In abhidharma the various wholesome and unwholesome mental states that arise from moment-to-moment and provide the warp and woof of our lives are enumerated and classified into their various functions and associations for the sake of contemplation and mindful review both in meditation and in daily life as part of the practice of the four foundations of mindfulness, which is to say ongoing mindfulness of forms, feelings, mental states, and dharmas as they arise and cease. With the six worlds and their iconic representatives, Buddhism provides symbolic shorthand for various clusters of mental factors. For instance, the worlds of asuras, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell-dwellers represent the increasingly strong influence of those mental factors universally present in all unwholesome states: covetousness, ill-will, delusion, deceit, doubt, and wrong views and a host of lesser defilements. The human and heavenly realms represent the increasing strength of wholesome mental states such as faith, energy, self-respect, decency, non-greed, and non-hatred. The arhats, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas, and buddhas represent increasing freedom from greed (even greed for ever-refined states of meditative absorption represented by the heavenly realms), conceit, and delusion. In terms of making Buddhist practice more visceral, immediate, and heart-felt, I believe that the mythic symbols and narratives of Mahāyāna sūtras like the Lotus Sūtra provide a more accessible way of assimilating the Dharma than the more abstract and clinical formulations of the abhidharma, though at the same time the former are a kind of GUI of the latter and not simply holdovers of a pre-modern and even pre-Buddhist worldview.
I recognize that this is not necessarily an innovative suggestion. In looking over the various translations of and commentaries on the Lotus Sūtra that I have in my library I find that they too caution against reading the sūtra literally and instead invite the reader to approach the sūtra as an allegory of awakening. I have already cited Sangharakshita, so let me share some brief passages from some of the others to serve as examples. Calling attention to the sophistication of narratives such as found in the Lotus Sūtra, Taigen Dan Leighton writes in Visions of Awakening Space and Time: Dogen and the Lotus Sutra:
Mahāyāna sutras and Zen kōans and sermons are usually not didactic works presenting systematic doctrines, but rather instrumental texts aimed at inciting particular samādhi, or concentration, states and insights. They often include colorful stories or parables and require subtle textual interpretation and exploration of narrative and metaphor usage to demonstrate their inner meanings and logic.
In his book The Stories of the Lotus Sutra, Gene Reeves says of the sūtra’s narratives and parables:
These stories, then, are instruments of skillful means, to help us see and embrace what we might not otherwise see or appreciate – the potential and power in each of us to take up the way of the bodhisattva, which is to become supremely awakened, which is to become a buddha.
Such stories should be taken seriously but not too seriously. Taken too seriously, too literally, too doctrinally, they can mislead.
Thich Nhat Hanh writes in his commentary on the sūtra, Opening the Heart of the Cosmos: Insights on the Lotus Sutra:
The language of the Lotus Sutra is like a very skillful painting that appears to be quite real. In order to demonstrate the meaning of the sutras, vivid language and images are used to point to very deep and wonderful ideas. The creators of the sutras were very great poets, but we should remember that such language is only a skillful means to express the profound ideas of the teachings. So when we read the sutra we must be able to look deeply. If we are caught up in the worlds, we will only see descriptions of miraculous events and supernatural powers and we will not be able to receive the true meaning that the Lotus Sutra wants to teach us.
It would seem that modern adherents of the Lotus Sūtra, whether Nichiren Shū bishops such as Senchu Murano or Zen Masters like Taigen Dan Leighton or Thich Nhat Hanh, have no problem with a metaphorical approach to the Lotus Sūtra and its traditions, teachings, and practices. Their commentaries have already opened up the way to a profounder reading of the sūtra than the merely literal. So there is nothing about the sūtra or its traditions that need necessarily lead to its rejection by those seeking to naturalize Buddhism or make it compatible with the atheism espoused by many new converts to Buddhism such as Stephen Batchelor or Owen Flanagan. Earlier in this paper I asked: Is it possible to take the Lotus Sūtra and those teaching and practices inspired by it, subtract the hocus pocus, and have a worthwhile philosophy for twenty-first century scientifically informed secular thinkers? I think the answer is yes. If there is anything worthwhile about Buddhism itself, such as the insights abstractly set forth in abhidharma literature, the practices of mindfulness and meditation set forth in the sutras, and the ethical imperatives set forth in the vinaya, then it is to be hoped that the powerful symbolic ways in which these same insights, practices, and imperatives are set forth in sūtras like the Lotus Sūtra will also come to be appreciated and valued by a wider audience – even if that wider audience sets forth the condition that anything of authentic spiritual value today must pass through the gates of scientific naturalism and even atheism.
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 Warner, pp. 127-135.
 Sangharakshita, pp. 18-19