The Modern Sutra
Thus have I heard. On one occasion, the Blessed One was residing at Savatthi in Anathapindika's Park with a great company of the fourfold multitude. The open-eared Ananda, the wise Manjusri, and dozens of other monks and bodhisattvas accompanied him. The Thus Come One sat in the meditative posture beneath a jeweled tree of unimaginable beauty, its branches covered in emerald leaves that whispered quietly in a gentle breeze. The Buddha surveyed the faithful who had gathered to hear him teach, their numbers reaching upwards of three thousand. He smiled, sending forth rays of light to illuminate the vicinity as far as one could see with pure light shining with true happiness and contentment. The mountains sparkled like countless faceted diamonds as if touched by a brilliant sun of a billion fires, and the grass shone as mirrors with a beautiful green reflection sending rainbows into the sky. The ponds and lakes projected myriad visions into the skies above, intertwining with rainbows on a background of flawless blue. Lotus petals rained down upon the earth, twinkling like priceless stars, also illuminated by the rays of light shining from the Buddha. The audience witnessed these events with awe and joy.
Then when it was evening, the venerable Maitreya rose from retreat, and he went to the Blessed One, and after paying homage to him, he sat down at one side. When he had done so, he said to the Buddha: "Venerable lord, will sentient beings always contain such loving delight in all that surrounds them into the future and for the rest of time? Your smile causes me to wonder. Please tell us, O Holy One."
The Blessed One nodded to Maitreya and faced the audience once again. He raised a hand calmly and began to speak. "There shall come a time of darkness upon a corner of this earth in the distant future. Many sentient beings will feel overwhelmed and burdened beyond their ability to cope, the weight of sins heavy on their shoulders like iron yokes bearing down on those who carry them. There will be those who lose sight of the Buddha in order to concentrate on the non-existent self and fall deeper into the realms of hatred. Why will this happen? Because sentient being will forget that which they should be cultivating and searching for with great dedication. Instead, they shall turn to imitation solutions that promise immediate relief, but in the full extent of reality these fake medicines shall only harm those who become dependent on them."
Maitreya felt confused, as he knew the rest of the audience was feeling in stronger proportions. He took the opportunity to ask the Buddha on behalf of all those present, "What sorts of unreal devices shall sentient beings come to rely on that will be so destructive?"
The Buddha replied, "Maitreya, it will be bleak. The citizens of a country that will be named America shall sink into a permanent dissatisfaction with the way things are. Instead of seeking the Path to eternal happiness and salvation, they will come to rely on oversized grains of sand of myriad colors and shapes, and pay large, powerful merchants unreasonable and inflated prices for useless capsules of powder that merely alter one’s mental state to make life more pleasurable. Mara shall take the form of prominent medical doctors and inform his patients that the only way to true happiness is through these expensive and, unknown to all save Mara, useless circles of magical substances with a bitter taste. The trend will spread, and the entire country will fall under the spell of Mara. This will happen."
The audience continued to listen in amazed silence, still somewhat unclear on what exactly will be happening in this Dark Age to come. Maitreya felt their uncertainty, and asked the Blessed One, "O Lord, why will these beings forget what they are supposed to be cultivating? What will cause them to lose sight of the ultimate goal of enlightenment?"
The Thus Come One had been expecting this question. "Again, Maitreya, this country that shall be known as America will be rich and fertile, a beautiful land of grand cities and bountiful crops to be harvested every season. There will be plenty for all with almost no need to think, no need to search for anything beyond that which is handed to all without question. With no need to concentrate on ways to survive, there will be no method by which these future beings may feel rewarded. They will see no need for a spiritual and pious life when they already have access to all the material possessions needed to survive in their impermanent physical forms. This misguided conception will cause a great feeling of worthlessness throughout the country, resulting in the search for a material solution for a problem residing within the mind.
"Maitreya, there is no reason for anyone to feel sadness, for all depression results from the mind’s misidentification of self. By subconsciously misidentifying one’s ego with any specific concept, the mind tends to be happy when the concept is present and sad when it is not. The stronger the misidentification, and the larger portion of one’s ego one associates directly as reliant on the concept, the stronger the depression will be once the concept is missing. One must identify the source of the misidentification in order to put a stop to one’s current state of mind and to further prevent future depressions. Mental discomfort is not unlike physical pain, in the fact that it will pass with time if one will allow it to."
The Buddha addressed the audience once more, saying, "Good people! In the future, this teaching will be needed by the sentient beings by whom the condition effects. The meritorious virtues obtained by those who pass this discourse on to future generation shall be inconceivable in their limitless value. Receive and remember well this scripture that I have taught, and be sure that it is never misplaced only to disappear without benefiting all of mankind. Do not forget the name: The Modern Sutra. Receive and retain it, for I entrust its keeping to all you present here."
Upon the conclusion of the teaching expounded by the Buddha, everyone in the audience obtained immeasurable progress on the Path to enlightenment. They had learned something which they had not know before, and for this they were immensely joyful. The laypeople, monks, bodhisattvas, and all those present, having heard the exposition by the Blessed One, paid their respects and departed.
After reading several Buddhist sutras throughout the semester, our professor declared it useful that us students write our own version of a sutra suited to the modern world. I put some thought into it and this is what I came up with.