Symbols and Texts
Buddhist imagery includes paintings, diagrams, and statues that function as meditational aides and focus for one's reflections. Such images often represent Shakyamuni Buddha himself or aspects of buddhahood, such as wisdom or compassion. These tangible representations of enlightenment in a sense constitute visual teachings or "dharma." Simply viewing an image can be a vivid reminder of the buddha nature within oneself.
Buddhist sutras are religious texts that present the Buddha's teachings and insights. In the first centuries after Shakyamuni Buddha passed away, the sutras were committed to memory and transmitted orally, usually starting with the words, "Thus have I heard." They gradually came to be written down in Pali, Sanskrit, and other languages around 2,000 years ago. They were later translated into different languages as Buddhism migrated to new places.
The Sanskrit word sutra is related to the English word "suture" and literally refers to sewing; a sutra, therefore, relates a particular teaching or thread of discourse given by the Buddha. For a teaching to be considered a sutra, it has to be directly or indirectly attributed to the Buddha, and therefore includes the inspired, anonymous writings of later disciples. The Nirvana Sutra, which forms the core of Shinnyo-en's doctrine, is one such example.
Just before he passed away, Shakyamuni Buddha consoled his disciples by saying, "Don't grieve for me after I die. The teachings will become your teacher." In this way, many Buddhists look to the sutras to connect with the Buddha, even if they were not given directly by Shakyamuni Buddha himself.