In the sixth to eleventh centuries Christian monastics lived out the Bible, even to the extent of acting out the various stories. Educating lay practitioners was of course one reason for this practice. Another was to ensure the story of the Bible lived on. Also another reason was to so fully embrace the teachings of the Bible into the life of the monastic practitioner that he became the book itself; the monk became the Bible.
The same kinds of practice can be found in the history of Buddhism. In fact the act of walking into a temple is the act of walking into the stories contained in the sutra. Depending which sutra a particular temple is following the interior of the temple will frequently immerse one into the heart of that sutra.
In Nichiren Shu, our altar and the liturgy of the service all serve to recreate or represent the major portion of the Lotus Sutra beginning with the appearance of the stupa above the congregation.
Understanding the stories of the sacred texts has value to moderns even though the story may seem outdated. Stories connect us to our history, our values, our traditions, and our family, however loosely we define family.
The Lotus Sutra is full of stories of previous and future lives of disciples of the Buddha. In some of the stories the cause for the present is given. In other stories the revelation of future enlightenment is told. In all cases the stories serve to connect ourselves, and our lives to the lives of those who have gone before us.
Stories are one of the easiest places to not only connect our life with the sacred texts of our faith traditions, they are also one of the easiest ways in which to connect with the lives of those around us. Everyone we know, meet, or see has a story, unique yet similar to our own.
Also, knowing the stories of your own life can help you to know yourself better. And knowing the stories of the sutra are a powerful way of learning and more fully embracing the teachings and truth of the teachings of the Buddha into your own life.
“All those World-Honored Ones expounded the truth of the reality of all things with various stories of previous lives, parables and similes, that is to say, with innumerable expedients.” (Chapter II, Lotus Sutra)