During Buddha's life, the teaching of the Buddha was passed on by reciting word for word what he had spoken in his teaching. These were called the sutras and always began with "thus have I heard". They are a collection of sermons, poems and often include stories to provide a message.
These sutras were meant by Buddha to lead us to understanding but at the same time, not for us to depend on any doctrine, even the words spoken by him. The Buddha teaches us to understand more how to live, than why we are here. The sutras are practical and provide methods to enable us to reach that understanding.
Hundreds of years later, these sutras were written down, and form the basis of much of today’s understanding of Buddhism. Obviously, like other old and revered texts, there is a continuous debate about the meaning and the input from the many different transcribers of these verbal teachings.
One of the most popular sutras is the Lotus Sutra, which was one of the teachings close to the end of his life. The lotus is a recurring symbol in Buddhism and represents the enlightened person, starting like a lotus flower, with roots in the mud, growing through the water to finally see the daylight at the top of the water.