For the Biginners

The Lotus Sutra

It was known as “The King of Sutras”, “Teaching of the greatest victory” and even as “The Teaching of Reality” from ancient days and revered by masses with utmost respect & faith. 
The Lotus Sutra received such reverence in many countries around the world especially in Asia rallying many followers behind it including patrons like Prince Shotoku in Japan who was a renowned historical figure.

According to history, Lord Shakyamuni Gauthama Buddha was born in India who attained the enlightenment becoming the Buddha at the age of 30, preached many teachings for as many as 5 decades before entering into extinction (Maha Parinirvana) at the age of 80. 
It was said that during the last 8 years of his life span, Buddha preached the Lotus Sutra which could even be considered as a great compilation of all prior doctrines. In it Buddha taught as follows;
All the various teachings I have preached so far belong in the provisional teachings, taught in expedient means and the teaching of reality is yet to be revealed. 
Leave behind all those various provisional teachings obediently and uphold your faith in The Lotus Sutra, rely on it, and engage in practice which is the teaching of reality that I am about to reveal. 
Never rely even on a single word or a phrase of teachings I have preached so far.

Teachings that was preached prior to Lotus Sutra could be considered as provisional doctrines intended for nurturing, cultivating the practitioners paving the way for the realization of the teaching of reality. 
Such provisional teachings can be found today in various innumerable scriptures such as Avathamsaka Sutra, Agama Sutra, Maha Vairochana Sutra, Amithartha Sutra & etc. 
They are collectively referred to as “Prior Sutras” giving the meaning that Sutras preached “prior” to Lotus Sutra. Imagine an elementary school student is given to sit for a University level exam all of a sudden. 
It will be quite an impossible task. Likewise, Lotus Sutra would have been impossible to realize yet even comprehend had it been preached without Prior Sutras in advance. 
Thereby the purpose of Prior Sutras was to cultivate & nurture the practitioner in order to realize the Lotus Sutra in which Buddha revealed the Bliss of Enlightenment he attained, and the path to get there. 

Thus following a one of a Prior Sutras since it was preached by the same Buddha shall not bestow you the same merits since they were supposed to be a part of the preparation, cultivating process after all. 
Practices based on such teachings will not guide you to the ultimate goal of Buddhahood, the bliss of enlightenment. 

Accordingly The Lotus Sutra which reveals the sacred path to Buddhahood, consists 28 chapters in it. 
First half of the Sutra consisting 14 chapters is known as “Provisional” (Shakumon) teaching portim whilst the latter part containing the last 14 chapters is known as “Primordial” (Honmon) teachings portim. 
These two fractions of the Sutra has their own content of impact. 

Word Shakumon depicts the idea of a Shadow or a Footprint of something. 
Even within the Lotus Sutra, first half of the teaching is considered a mere shadow or a footprint of the Reality though we call it, The Teaching of Reality or The Teaching of Enlightenment.

On the contrary, Honmon means the Reality or the Originality. 
Thus the Teaching of Reality is truly revealed in the Honmon (Primordial) part of the Sutra.
From the view point of Honmon, even the shadow or footprint of reality shall yet not be the reality and belong in the same category as Prior Sutras. 
Accordingly, following the Shakumon part even within the Lotus Sutra will be meaningless similar to the practice of Prior Sutras.

But what is the basic difference between these Provisional & Primordial teachings?
Simply, the difference is in the “Appearance” of the Buddha at the time of preaching. Buddha appeared to be a Shadow of remote source during the preaching of Provisional (Shakumon) teachings. 
The Buddha that we know of was born nearly 2600 years ago in India and he renounced at the age of 19, enlightened at 30 and entered extinction at the age of 80. 
This is the “appearance” of the Buddha through the Prior Sutras till the end of Provisional part of the Lotus Sutra.  

However, this form of appearance is revealed to be a shadow as another appearance is seen in the Primordial teachings. 
The Appearance that we knew of, was taken by the Buddha with great compassion as merely an expedient to guide us common human beings towards the enlightenment. 
Buddha appeared to us as a human seemingly enlightened upon the perfection of Bodhisattva practices setting an example for us to follow. 
In reality his source of enlightenment was already in existence from the remotest past. This true form of Buddhahood is known as the Primordial Buddha. 

Let’s discuss who this Primordial Buddha from remotest past is and whether it is the true form of Buddha’s appearance.