Lotus Sutra

From Encyclopedia of Buddhism
Jump to: navigation, search
This article needs attention.
The following sections have not been vetted: Outline, Teachings, Modern Scholarship
Lotus Sūtra Mandala, Honpoji, Toyama, Japan, c. 1326-28

The Lotus Sūtra (Sanskrit: Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra, literally "Sūtra on the White Lotus of the Sublime Dharma"[1]) is a Mahayana sutra that is one of the most influential texts within East Asian Buddhism. According to Paul Williams, "For many East Asian Buddhists since early times the Lotus Sutra contains the final teaching of the Buddha, complete and sufficient for salvation."[2] The Lotus Sutra is the core text of the Tiantai, Tendai, Cheontae, and Nichiren schools.

This sutra was also translated into Tibetan, but it's infleunce within Tibetan Buddhism is more limited. Within Tibetan Buddhism, this sutra serves as a reference for quotes regarding the view and practice for the Mahayana path.


A Goryeo illustrated manuscript of the Lotus Sūtra, scroll catalogue number # 7. Circa, 1340.

Sanskrit title:

  • Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra

English translations:

  • Lotus Sutra
  • Sutra of the White Lotus of the Good Dharma[3]
  • Sūtra on the White Lotus of the Sublime Dharma[1]
  • Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma[4]

Translations of this title into other languages include:

  • Chinese: 妙法蓮華經; pinyin: Miàofǎ Liánhuá jīng, shortened to 法華經 Fǎhuá jīng
  • Japanese: (妙法蓮華経, Myōhō Renge Kyō), Hokke-kyō, Hoke-kyō (法華経)
  • Korean: Hangul묘법연화경; RRMyobeop Yeonhwa gyeong, shortened to Beophwa gyeong
  • Tibetan: དམ་ཆོས་པད་མ་དཀར་པོའི་མདོWylie: dam chos padma dkar po'i mdo, THL: Damchö Pema Karpo'i do
  • Vietnamese: Diệu pháp Liên hoa kinh, shortened to Pháp hoa kinh


Translations into Chinese

Three translations of the Lotus Sūtra into Chinese are extant:[5][6][7][note 1]

  • The Lotus Sūtra of the Correct Dharma (Cheng fa-hua ching), in ten volumes and twenty-seven chapters, translated by Dharmarakṣa in 286 CE.
  • The Lotus Sūtra of the Wonderful Dharma (Miàofǎ Liánhuá jīng), in eight volumes and twenty-eight chapters, translated by Kumārajīva in 406 CE.
  • The Supplemented Lotus Sūtra of the Wonderful Dharma (T´ien p´in miao-fa lien-hua-ching), in seven volumes and twenty-seven chapters, a revised version of Kumarajiva's text, translated by Jnanagupta and Dharmagupta in 601 CE.[9]

The Lotus Sūtra was originally translated from Sanskrit into Chinese by Dharmarakṣa in 286 CE in Chang'an during the Western Jin Period (265-317 CE).[10][11][12] However, the view that there is a high degree of probability that the base text for that translation was actually written in a Prakrit language has gained widespread acceptance.[note 2] It may have originally been composed in a Prakrit dialect and then later translated into Sanskrit to lend it greater respectability.[14]

This early translation by Dharmarakṣa was superseded by a translation in seven fascicles by Kumārajīva´s team in 406 CE.[15][16][17] According to Jean-Noël Robert, Kumārajīva relied heavily on the earlier version.[18] The Sanskrit editions[19][20][21][22] are not widely used outside of academia.

In some Chinese and Japanese sources the Lotus Sūtra has been compiled together with two other sutras which serve as a prologue and epilogue, respectively the Innumerable Meanings Sutra (Chinese: 無量義經; pinyin: Wúliángyì jīng Muryōgi kyō)[23] and the Samantabhadra Meditation Sutra (Chinese: 普賢經; pinyin: Pǔxián jīng, Fugen kyō).[24][25] This composite sutra is often called the Threefold Lotus Sūtra or Three-Part Dharma Flower Sutra (Chinese: 法華三部経; pinyin: Fǎhuá Sānbù jīng, Hokke Sambu kyō).[26]

Translation into Tibetan

According to the 84000 translation group:

The Tibetan translation was made during the reign of King Ralpachen (r. 815–38) as part of the translation project at Samye Monastery instituted by King Trisong Detsen (r. 742–98). The translators were Nanam Yeshé Dé, who was also the chief editor and whose name is in the colophon of no fewer than 380 texts in the Kangyur and Tengyur, three of which are his own original works in Tibetan, and the Indian translator Surendrabodhi, who did not come to Tibet until Ralpachen’s reign and is also listed as the translator of 43 texts.

The Tibetan version matches in content the version translated into Chinese by Jñānagupta and Dharmagupta in 601–02, and also matches the Nepalese Sanskrit manuscripts. The last part of chapter 25 corresponds to the passage that first appeared in Chinese in the 601–02 translation and was subsequently added to Kumārajīva’s version. The Devadatta episode, which is not in Kumārajīva’s Chinese translation and is included as a separate chapter in Jñānagupta’s, forms part of chapter 11, “The Appearance of the Stūpa,” in both the Nepalese Sanskrit and the Tibetan. However, the transition in chapter 11 from the account of the floating stūpa to the Devadatta passage is abrupt. The Devadatta passage is also followed immediately, without a narrative transition, by the account of Prajñākūṭa, which might more gracefully have had its own chapter.

Present in Tibetan and Sanskrit, but not in Chinese, are the last five verses of chapter 24, describing Avalokiteśvara in relation to Sukhāvatī and his future buddhahood. Some Tibetan versions contain a teaching that is emitted from the floating stūpa in chapter 11. As mentioned above, this teaching is not found in any extant Sanskrit manuscript, nor in the Chinese translations. Specifically, it is present in the Degé, Narthang, Lhasa, and Stok Palace Kangyurs, but not in the Yongle Peking, Lithang, Kangxi Peking, or Choné Kangyurs.

As mentioned above, the only commentary on the sūtra in the Tengyur is an anonymous translation from the Chinese of the first eleven chapters of a commentary by Kuiji (632–682). In Tibet the Lotus Sūtra never gained the prominence it achieved in China, let alone in Japan; nor did it have even the status it retains in Nepalese Buddhism. Nevertheless, it has served through the centuries as a source of quotations for many authors of all schools of Tibetan Buddhism, particularly on the subject of the preeminence of the Mahāyāna.[3]

Translations into Western languages

From Nepalese Sanskrit manuscript

The first French translation of the Lotus Sūtra, based on a Nepalese Sanskrit manuscript, was published by Eugène Burnouf in 1852.[27][28] Hendrik Kern completed his English translation of an ancient Nepalese Sanskrit manuscript in 1884.[29][30]

From Kumarajiva's Chinese text

Tranlations of Kumarajiva's Chinese text were made into:

Each of these translations incorporate different approaches and styles that range from complex to simplified.[43]

From Tibetan text

The following translation from the Tibetan text was published by the 84000 translation group in November 2018:


Editornote image from pexelsdotcom 60x40px.png Editor's note: This section has not been vetted
Illustrated Lotus Sūtra handscroll, Kamakura period, c. 1257; ink, color, and gold on paper.
  • Ch. 1, Introduction – During a gathering at Vulture Peak, Shakyamuni Buddha goes into a state of deep meditative absorption, the earth shakes in six ways, and he brings forth a ray of light which illuminates thousands of buddha-fields in the east.[note 3][45][46] Bodhisattva Manjusri then states that the Buddha is about to expound his ultimate teaching.[47][48]
  • Ch. 2, Ways and Means – Shakyamuni explains his use of skillful means to adapt his teachings according to the capacities of his audience.[49] He reveals that the ultimate purpose of the Buddhas is to cause sentient beings "to obtain the insight of the Buddha" and "to enter the way into the insight of the Buddha".[50][51][52]
  • Ch. 3, A Parable – The Buddha teaches a parable in which a father uses the promise of various toy carts to get his children out of a burning house.[53] Once they are outside, he gives them all one large cart to travel in instead. This symbolizes how the Buddha uses the Three Vehicles: Arhatship, Pratyekabuddhahood and Samyaksambuddhahood, as skillful means to liberate all beings – even though there is only one vehicle.[54] The Buddha also promises Sariputra that he will attain Buddhahood.
  • Ch. 4, Faith and Understanding – Four senior disciples address the Buddha.[55] They tell the parable of the poor son and his rich father, who guides him with pedagogically skillful devices to regain self-confidence and "recognize his own Buddha-wisdom".[56][57]
  • Ch. 5, Parable of the plants – This parable says that the Dharma is like a great monsoon rain that nourishes many different kinds of plants who represent Śrāvakas, Pratyekabuddhas, and Bodhisattvas,[58] and all beings receiving the teachings according to their respective capacities.[59]
  • Ch. 6, Assurances of Becoming a Buddha – The Buddha prophesizes the enlightenment of Mahakasyapa, Subhuti, Mahakatyayana and Mahamaudgalyayana.
  • Ch. 7, The Magic City – The Buddha teaches a parable about a group of people seeking a great treasure who are tired of their journey and wish to quit. Their guide creates a magical phantom city for them to rest in and then makes it disappear.[60][61][62] The Buddha explains that the magic city represents the "Hinayana nirvana" and the treasure is buddhahood.[63]
  • Ch. 8, Assurances for 500 Arhats. – 500 Arhats are assured of their future Buddhahood. They tell the parable of a man who has fallen asleep after drinking and whose friend sews a jewel into his garment. When he wakes up he continues a life of poverty without realizing he is really rich, he only discovers the jewel after meeting his old friend again.[64][65][66][61] The hidden jewel has been interpreted as a symbol of Buddha-nature.[67] Zimmermann noted the similarity with the nine parables in the Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra that illustrate how the indwelling Buddha in sentient beings is hidden by negative mental states.[68]
  • Ch. 9, Assurances for the Trainees and Adepts.Ananda, Rahula and two thousand Śrāvakas are assured of their future Buddhahood.[69]
  • Ch. 10, Teacher of the Dharma – Presents the practices of teaching the sutra which includes accepting, embracing, reading, reciting, copying, explaining, propagating it, and living in accordance with its teachings. The teacher of the Dharma is praised as the messenger of the Buddha.[70] The theme of propagating the Lotus Sūtra which starts here, continues in the remaining chapters.[note 4]
The floating jeweled stupa.
  • Ch. 11, The Treasure stupa – A great jeweled stupa rises from the earth and floats in the air;[72] a voice is heard from within praising the Lotus Sūtra.[73] Another Buddha resides in the tower, the Buddha Prabhūtaratna who is said to have made a vow to make an appearance to verify the truth of the Lotus Sutra whenever it is preached.[74] Countless manifestations of Shakyamuni Buddha in the ten directions are now summoned by the Buddha. Thereafter Prabhūtaratna invites Shakyamuni to sit beside him in the jeweled stupa.[75][76] This chapter reveals the existence of multiple Buddhas at the same time[73] and the doctrine of the eternal nature of Buddhahood.
  • Ch. 12, Devadatta – Through the stories of the dragon king's daughter and Devadatta, the Buddha teaches that everyone can become enlightened – women, animals, and even the most sinful murderers.[77]
  • Ch. 13, Encouragement to uphold the sutra – The Buddha encourages all beings to embrace the teachings of the sutra in all times, even in the most difficult ages to come. The Buddha prophesizes that six thousand nuns who are also present will become Buddhas.[78]
  • Ch. 14, Peace and ContentmentManjusri asks how a bodhisattva should spread the teaching. In his reply Shakyamuni Buddha describes the proper conduct and the appropriate sphere of relations of a bodhisattva.[79] A bodhisattva should not talk about the faults of other preachers or their teachings. He is encouraged to explain the Mahayana teachings when he answers questions.[80] Virtues such as patience, gentleness, a calm mind, wisdom and compassion are to be cultivated.
  • Ch. 15, Springing Up from the Earth – In this chapter countless bodhisattvas spring up from the earth, ready to teach, and the Buddha declares that he has trained these bodhisattvas in the remote past.[81][82] This confuses some disciples including Maitreya, but the Buddha affirms that he has taught all of these bodhisattvas himself.
  • Ch. 16, The eternal lifespan of the Tathagata – The Buddha explains that he is truly eternal and omniscient. He then teaches the Parable of the Excellent Physician who entices his sons into taking his medicine by feigning his death.[83][84]
  • Ch. 17, Merits and Virtues of enlightenment – The Buddha explains that since he has been teaching as many beings as the sands of the Ganges have been saved.
  • Ch. 18, Merits and Virtues of Joyful Acceptance – Faith in the teachings of the sutra brings much merit and lead to good rebirths.
  • Ch. 19, Merits and Virtues obtained by a Teacher of the Dharma – The relative importance of the merits of the six senses are explained by the Buddha.
  • Ch. 20, The Bodhisattva Sadāparibhūta – The Buddha tells a story about a previous life when he was a Bodhisattva called Sadāparibhūta (Never Disparaging) and how he treated every person he met, good or bad, with respect, always remembering that they will too become Buddhas.[85]
  • Ch. 21, The Spiritual Power of the Tathagata – Reveals that the sutra contains all of the Eternal Buddha’s secret spiritual powers. The bodhisattvas who have sprung from the earth (ch 15) are entrusted with the task of propagating it.[86]
  • Ch. 22, The Passing of the Commission – The Buddha transmits the Lotus Sutra to all bodhisattvas in his congregation and entrusts them with its safekeeping.[87][88] The Buddha Prabhūtaratna in his jewelled stupa and the countless manifestations of Shakyamuni Buddha return to their respective buddha-fields.[89][note 5]
Avalokiteśvara, Ajanta cave no 1, 5th century
  • Ch. 23, The Bodhisattva Bhaiṣajyarāja – The Buddha tells the story of the 'Medicine King' Bodhisattva, who, in a previous life, burnt his body as a supreme offering to a Buddha.[92][93][94] The hearing and chanting of the Lotus Sūtra' is also said to cure diseases. The Buddha uses nine similes to declare that the Lotus Sūtra is the king of all sutras.[95]
  • Ch. 24, The Bodhisattva Gadgadasvara – "Wonderful Voice" (Gadgadasvara), a Bodhisattva from a distant world, visits Vulture Peak to worship the Buddha. Bodhisattva "Wonderful Voice" once made offerings of various kinds of music to the Buddha "Cloud-Thunder-King". His accumulated merits enable him to take 34 different forms to propagate the Lotus Sutra.[96][91]
  • Ch. 25, The Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara – This chapter is devoted to Avalokiteśvara, describing him as a compassionate bodhisattva who hears the cries of sentient beings, and rescues those who call upon his name.[97][98][99]
  • Ch. 26, DhāraṇīHariti and several Bodhisattvas offer sacred formulae (dhāraṇī) in order to protect those who keep and recite the Lotus Sūtra.[100][101][note 6]
  • Ch. 27, King Wonderfully Adorned – A chapter on the conversion of King 'Wonderful-Adornment' by his two sons.[103][104]
  • Ch. 28, Encouragement of the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra – A bodhisattva called "Universal Virtue" asks the Buddha how to preserve the sutra in the future. Samantabhadra promises to protect and guard all those who keep this sutra in the future Age of Dharma Decline.[105]


Portable shrine depicting Buddha Sakyamuni preaching the Lotus Sūtra.[106] The Walters Art Museum.

One vehicle, many skillful means

This Lotus Sūtra is known for its extensive instruction on the concept and usage of skillful means (upaya-kaushalya), the seventh paramita or perfection of a Bodhisattva – mostly in the form of parables. The many 'skillful' or 'expedient' means and the "three vehicles" are revealed to all be part of the One Vehicle (Ekayāna), which is also the Bodhisattva path. This is also one of the first sutras to use the term Mahāyāna, or "Great Vehicle". In the Lotus Sūtra, the One Vehicle encompasses so many different teachings because the Buddha's compassion and wish to save all beings led him to adapt the teaching to suit many different kinds of people. As Paul Williams explains:

Although the corpus of teachings attributed to the Buddha, if taken as a whole, embodies many contradictions, these contradictions are only apparent. Teachings are appropriate to the context in which they are given and thus their contradictions evaporate. The Buddha’s teachings are to be used like ladders, or, to apply an age-old Buddhist image, like a raft employed to cross a river. There is no point in carrying the raft once the journey has been completed and its function fulfilled. When used, such a teaching transcends itself.[107]

The sutra emphasizes that all these seemingly different teachings are actually just skillful applications of the one Dharma and thus all constitute the "One Buddha Vehicle and knowledge of all modes". The Lotus Sūtra sees all other teachings are subservient to, propagated by and in the service of the ultimate truth of the One Vehicle leading to Buddhahood.[6] The Lotus Sūtra also claims to be superior to other sūtras and states that full Buddhahood is only arrived at by exposure to its teachings and skillful means. Chapter ten of the Burton Watson translation states: "...Medicine King, now I say to you, I have preached various sutras, and among those sutras the Lotus is foremost!"

All beings have the potential to become Buddhas

The bodhisattva Longnü represented as the daughter of a Dragon-King offers her priceless pearl to the Buddha in this illustration of the 12th Devadatta chapter of the Lotus Sutra. From the 12th century, private collection, artist unknown. [108]

The Lotus Sūtra is also significant because it reveals that women, evil people and even animals have the potential to become Buddhas. It in fact teaches that beings have the potential to become Buddhas in their present form, and provides instructions including: having faith in, following and practicing, not slandering, and truly refuting any slander of it and its teachings. That is, with the Lotus Sūtra, people need neither practice austerities for countless kalpas nor wait for rebirth in a different physical form to become a Buddha (previous teachings held that women must be reborn as men and then practice for innumerable kalpas in order to become Buddhas). Thus through its many similes and parables, the Lotus Sūtra affirms the potential for all beings to become Buddhas, and furthermore provides instructions for all beings to becoming a Buddha in the present life.

The Lotus Sūtra also teaches that the Buddha has many embodiments or emanations and these are the countless bodhisattva disciples. These bodhisattvas choose to remain in the world to save all beings and to keep the teaching alive. According to Gene Reeves: "Because the Buddha and his Dharma are alive in such bodhisattvas, he himself continues to be alive. The fantastically long life of the Buddha, in other words, is at least partly a function of and dependent on his being embodied in others."[109] The Lotus Sūtra also teaches various dhāraṇīs or the prayers of different celestial bodhisattvas who out of compassion protect and teach all beings. The lotus flower imagery points to this quality of the bodhisattvas. The lotus symbolizes the bodhisattva who is rooted in the earthly mud and yet flowers above the water in the open air of enlightenment.[110]

The universe outlined by the Lotus Sūtra encompasses realms of gods, devas, dragons[note 7] and other mythological beings, requiring numerous dimensions to contain them. Buddhas are described as the patient teachers, who constantly guide all beings to enlightenment. The radical message of the Lotus Sūtra therefore includes the fact that all beings have the potential to become Buddhas and teach the Dharma here and now.

The nature of the Buddhas

Another concept introduced by the Lotus Sūtra is the idea that the Buddha is an eternal entity, who achieved nirvana eons ago, but remains in the world to help teach beings the Dharma time and again. He reveals himself as the "father" of all beings and evinces the loving care of just such a father. Moreover, the sutra indicates that even after the parinirvana (apparent physical death) of a Buddha, that Buddha continues to be real and to be capable of communicating with the world.

The idea that the physical death of a Buddha is the termination of that Buddha is graphically refuted by the appearance of another Buddha, who passed long before. In the vision of the Lotus Sūtra, Buddhas are ultimately immortal. Crucially, not only are there multiple Buddhas in this view, but an infinite stream of Buddhas extending infinitely in space in the ten directions and through unquantifiable eons of time. The Lotus Sūtra illustrates a sense of timelessness and the inconceivable, often using large numbers and measurements of time and space. The Buddha of the Lotus Sūtra states:

In this way, since my attainment of Buddhahood it has been a very great interval of time. My life-span is incalculable asatkhyeyakalpas [rather a lot of aeons], ever enduring, never perishing. O good men! The life-span I achieved in my former treading of the bodhisattva path even now is not exhausted, for it is twice the above number. Yet even now, though in reality I am not to pass into extinction [enter final nirvana], yet I proclaim that I am about to accept extinction. By resort to these expedient devices [this skill-in-means] the Thus Come One [the Tathagata] teaches and converts the beings.[112]

Influence on Buddhist traditions

According to Donald Lopez, the Lotus Sutra is "arguably the most famous of all Buddhist texts," presenting "a radical re-vision of both the Buddhist path and of the person of the Buddha."[113][note 8]


The Lotus Sutra was frequently cited in Indian works by Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu, Candrakirti, Santideva and several authors of the Madhyamaka and the Yogacara school.[114] The only extant Indian commentary on the Lotus Sutra is attributed to Vasubandhu.[115][116]

East Asia

According to Jonathan Silk, the influence of the Lotus Sūtra in India may have been limited, but "it is a prominent scripture in East Asian Buddhism."[117] The sutra has most prominence in Tiantai and Nichiren Buddhism.[118] It is also influential in Zen Buddhism.


Tao Sheng, a fifth-century Chinese Buddhist monk wrote the earliest extant commentary on the Lotus Sūtra.[119][120] Tao Sheng was known for promoting the concept of Buddha nature and the idea that even deluded people will attain enlightenment. Daoxuan (596-667) of the Tang Dynasty wrote that the Lotus Sutra was "the most important sutra in China".[121][full citation needed]

Zhiyi, the generally credited founder of the Tiantai school of Buddhism, was the student of Nanyue Huisi[122] who was the leading authority of his time on the Lotus Sūtra.[123] Zhiyi's philosophical synthesis saw the Lotus Sūtra as the final teaching of the Buddha and the highest teaching of Buddhism.[124] He wrote two commentaries on the sutra: Profound meanings of the Lotus Sūtra and Words and phrases of the Lotus Sūtra. Zhiyi also linked the teachings of the Lotus Sūtra with the Buddha nature teachings of the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra and made a distinction between the "Eternal Buddha" Vairocana and the manifestations. In Tiantai, Vairocana (the primeval Buddha) is seen as the 'Bliss body' – Sambhogakāya – of the historical Gautama Buddha.[124]


The Lotus Sūtra is a very important sutra in Tiantai[125] and correspondingly, in Japanese Tendai (founded by Saicho, 767–822). Tendai Buddhism was the dominant form of mainstream Buddhism in Japan for many years and the influential founders of popular Japanese Buddhist sects including Nichiren, Honen, Shinran and Dogen[126] were trained as Tendai monks.

Calligraphic mandala (Gohonzon) inscribed by Nichiren in 1280. The central characters are the title of the Lotus Sūtra.[127]

Nichiren, a 13th-century Japanese Buddhist monk, founded an entire school of Buddhism based on his belief that the Lotus Sūtra is "the Buddha´s ultimate teaching",[128] and that the title is the essence of the sutra, "the seed of Buddhahood".[129] Nichiren held that chanting the title of the Lotus Sūtra – Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō – was the only way to practice Buddhism in the degenerate age of Dharma decline and was the highest practice of Buddhism.[124]

Dogen, the 13th-century Japanese founder of Sōtō Zen Buddhism, used the Lotus Sūtra often in his writings. According to Taigen Dan Leighton, "While Dogen's writings employ many sources, probably along with his own intuitive meditative awareness, his direct citations of the Lotus Sūtra indicate his conscious appropriation of its teachings as a significant source"[130] and that his writing "demonstrates that Dogen himself saw the Lotus Sutra, 'expounded by all buddhas in the three times,' as an important source for this self-proclamatory rhetorical style of expounding."[131] In his Shobogenzo, Dogen directly discusses the Lotus Sūtra in the essay Hokke-Ten-Hokke, "The Dharma Flower Turns the Dharma Flower". The essay uses a dialogue from the Platform Sutra between Huineng and a monk who has memorized the Lotus Sūtra to illustrate the non-dual nature of dharma practice and sutra study.[130] During his final days, Dogen spent his time reciting and writing the Lotus Sutra in his room which he named "The Lotus Sutra Hermitage".[132]

The Soto Zen monk Ryōkan also studied the Lotus Sūtra extensively and this sutra was the biggest inspiration for his poetry and calligraphy.[133]

The Rinzai Zen master Hakuin Ekaku achieved enlightenment while reading the third chapter of the Lotus Sūtra.[134]


According to the 84000 translation group:

In Tibet the Lotus Sūtra never gained the prominence it achieved in China, let alone in Japan; nor did it have even the status it retains in Nepalese Buddhism. Nevertheless, it has served through the centuries as a source of quotations for many authors of all schools of Tibetan Buddhism, particularly on the subject of the preeminence of the Mahāyāna.[3]

The only commentary on the sūtra in the Tibetan Tengyur is an anonymous translation from the Chinese of the first eleven chapters of a commentary by Kuiji (632–682).[3]

Influence on East Asian culture

The Lotus Sūtra has had a great impact on East Asian literature, art, and folklore for over 1400 years.


Various events from it are depicted in religious art.[135][136][137] Wang argues that the explosion of art inspired by the Lotus Sutra, starting from the 7th and 8th centuries in China, was a confluence of text and the topography of the Chinese medieval mind in which the latter dominated.[138]

Motifs from the Lotus Sutra figure prominently in the Dunhuang caves built in the Sui era.[139] The theme of Shakyamuni and Prabhutaratna Buddhas seated together as depicted in the 11th chapter of the Lotus Sutra can be seen in a bronze plaque (year 686) at Hase-dera Temple in Japan[140] and, in Korea, at Dabotap and Seokgatap Pagodas, built in 751, at Bulguksa Temple.[141]


Tamura refers to the "Lotus Sutra literary genre."[142] Its ideas and images are writ large in great works of Chinese and Japanese literature such as The Dream of the Red Chamber and The Tale of Genji.[143] The Lotus Sutra has had an outsized influence on Japanese Buddhist poetry.[144] Far more poems have been Lotus Sutra-inspired than other sutras.[145] In the work Kanwa taisho myoho renge-kyo, a compendium of more than 120 collections of poetry from the Heian period, there are more than 1360 poems with references to the Lotus Sutra in just their titles.[146][147]


The Lotus Sutra has inspired a branch of folklore based on figures in the sutra or subsequent people who have embraced it. The story of the Dragon King's daughter, who attained enlightenment in the 12th (Devadatta) chapter of the Lotus Sutra, appears in the Complete Tale of Avalokiteśvara and the Southern Seas and the Precious Scroll of Sudhana and Longnü folkstories. The Miraculous Tales of the Lotus Sutra[148] is a collection of 129 stories with folklore motifs based on "Buddhist pseudo-biographies."[149]

Textual history


In 1934, based on his text-critical analysis of Chinese and Sanskrit versions, Kogaku Fuse concluded that the Lotus Sūtra was composed in four main stages. According to Fuse, the verse sections of chapters 1-9 and 17 were probably created in the first century BCE, with the prose sections of these chapters added in the first century CE. He estimates the date of the third stage, chapters 10, 11, 13-16, 18-20 and 27, around 100 CE. Chapters 21-26 belong to the last stage (around 150 CE).[150][note 9]

According to Stephen F. Teiser and Jacqueline Stone, there is consensus about the stages of composition but not about the dating of these strata.[152]

Tamura argues that the first stage of composition, chapters 2-9, was completed around 50 CE and expanded by chapters 10-21 around 100 CE. He dates the third stage, chapters 22-27, around 150 CE.[153]

Karashima proposes another modified version of Fuse's hypothesis with the following sequence of composition:[154][155]

  • chapters 2-9 form the earliest stratum. The first layer of this stratum includes the tristubh verses of these chapters which may have been transmitted orally in a Prakrit dialect. The second layer consists of the sloka verses and the prose of chapters 2-9.
  • chapters 1, 10-20, 27, and a part of chapter 5 that is missing in Kumarajiva's translation.[156][note 10]
  • chapters 21-26 and the section on Devadatta in chapter 11 of the Sanskrit version.

Modernist scholarship and internationalization

Eugene Burnouf's's 1844 "Introduction à l'histoire du Buddhisme indien" marks the start of modern academic scholarship of Buddhism in the West. His translation of the Lotus Sutra, "Le Lotus de la bonne loi," was published posthumously in 1852. Prior to publication, a chapter from the translation was included in the 1844 journal The Dial, a publication of the New England transcendentalists, translated from French to English by Elizabeth Palmer Peabody.[159] A translation of the Lotus Sutra from Sanskrit was completed by Kern in 1884.[160]

Western interest in the Lotus Sutra waned in the latter 19th century as Indo-centric scholars focused on older Pali and Sanskrit texts. However, Christian missionaries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, based predominantly in China, became interested in Kumārajīva's translation of the Lotus Sutra into Chinese. These scholars attempted to draw parallels between the Old and New Testaments to earlier Nikaya sutras and the Lotus Sutra. Abbreviated and "cristo-centric" translations were published by Richard and Soothill.[161]

According to Shields, "modern(ist)" interpretations of the Lotus Sutra begin with the early 20th century nationalist applications of the Lotus Sutra by Chigaku Tanaka, Nissho Honda, Seno'o, and Nisshō Inoue.[162] In the post World War II years, scholarly attention to the Lotus Sutra was inspired by renewed interest in Japanese Buddhism as well as archeological research in Dunhuang. This led to the 1976 Leon Hurvitz publication of the Lotus Sutra based on Kumarajiva's translation. Whereas the Hurvitz work was independent scholarship, other modern translations were sponsored by Buddhist groups: Kato Bunno (1975, Nichiren-shu/Rissho-kosei-kai), Murano Senchu (1974, Nichiren-shu), Burton Watson (1993, Soka Gakkai), and the Buddhist Text Translation Society (Xuanhua).[163]

Japanese new religions began forming in the 19th century and the trend accelerated after World War II. Some of these groups have pushed the study of the Lotus Sutra to a global scale.[164][165] While noting the importance of several Japanese New Religious Movements to Lotus Sutra scholarship, Lopez focuses on the contributions made by the Reiyukai and Soka Gakkai[166] and Stone discusses the contributions of the Soka Gakkai and Risshō Kōsei Kai.[167] Etai Yamada, the 253rd head priest of the Tendai denomination conducted ecumenical dialogues with religious leaders around the world based on his interpretation of the Lotus Sutra which culminated in a 1987 summit. He also used the Lotus Sutra to move his sect from a "temple Buddhism" perspective to one based on social engagement.[168] Nichiren-inspired Buddhist organizations have shared their interpretations of the Lotus Sutra through publications, academic symposia, and exhibitions.[169][170][171][172][173]

See also


  1. Weinstein states: "Japanese scholars demonstrated decades ago that this traditional list of six translations of the Lotus lost and three surviving-given in the K'ai-yiian-lu and elsewhere is incorrect. In fact, the so-called "lost" versions never existed as separate texts; their titles were simply variants of the titles of the three "surviving" versions."[8]
  2. Jan Nattier has recently summarized this aspect of the early textual transmission of such Buddhist scriptures in China thus, bearing in mind that Dharmarakṣa's period of activity falls well within the period she defines: "Studies to date indicate that Buddhist scriptures arriving in China in the early centuries of the Common Era were composed not just in one Indian dialect but in several . . . in sum, the information available to us suggests that, barring strong evidence of another kind, we should assume that any text translated in the second or third century AD was not based on Sanskrit, but one or other of the many Prakrit vernaculars."[13]
  3. Sanskrit buddhaksetra, the realm of a Buddha, a pure land. Buswell and Lopez state that "Impure buddha-fields are synonymous with a world system (cacravada), the infinite number of “world discs” in Buddhist cosmology that constitutes the universe (...)."[44]
  4. Ryodo Shioiri states, "If I may speak very simply about the characteristics of section 2, chapter 10 and subsequent chapters emphasize the command to propagate the Lotus Sūtra in society as opposed to the predictions given in section 1 out (sic) the future attainment of buddhahood by the disciples....and the central concern is the actualization of the teaching--in other words, how to practice and transmit the spirit of the Lotus Sutra as contained in the original form of section 1."[71]
  5. The "Passing of the Commission" is the final chapter in the Sanskrit versions and the alternative Chinese translations.[90][91]
  6. Dhāraṇī is used in the "limited sense of mantra-dharani" in this chapter.[102]
  7. The eight dragons who are mentioned in the Lotus Sūtra, are known in Japan as the hachidai ryuuou (八大竜王), and appear throughout Japanese Buddhist art.[111]
  8. Donald Lopez: "Although composed in India, the Lotus Sutra became particularly important in China and Japan. In terms of Buddhist doctrine, it is renowned for two powerful proclamations by the Buddha. The first is that there are not three vehicles to enlightenment but one, that all beings in the universe will one day become buddhas. The second is that the Buddha did not die and pass into nirvana; in fact, his lifespan is immeasurable."[113]
  9. Chapter numbers of the extant Sanskrit version are given here. The arrangement and numbering of chapters in Kumarajiva's translation is different.[151]
  10. In the Sanskrit manuscripts chapter 5 contains the parable of a blind man who refuses to believe that vision exists.[157][158]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Shields 2013, p. 512.
  2. Williams 1989, p. 149.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 84000.png The White Lotus of the Good Dharma (Introduction)
  4. Hurvitz 1976.
  5. Reeves 2008, p. 2.
  6. 6.0 6.1 The English Buddhist Dictionary Committee 2002.
  7. Shioiri 1989, pp. 25-26.
  8. Weinstein 1977, p. 90.
  9. Stone 2003, p. 471.
  10. Taisho vol.9, pp. 63-134
  11. Karashima 1988, p. VIII.
  12. Zürcher 2006, p. 57-69.
  13. Nattier 2008, p. 22.
  14. Watson 1993, p. IX.
  15. Tay 1980, pp. 374.
  16. Taisho vol. 9, no. 262, CBETA
  17. Karashima 2001, p. VII.
  18. Robert 2011, p. 63.
  19. Kern & 1908-1912.
  20. Vaidya 1960.
  21. Jamieson 2002, pp. 165–173.
  22. Yuyama 1970.
  23. Cole 2005, p. 59.
  24. Hirakawa 1990, p. 286.
  25. Suguro 1998, p. 4.
  26. Buswell 2013, pp. 290.
  27. Burnouf 1852.
  28. Yuyama 2000, pp. 61-77.
  29. Vetter 1999, pp. 129-141.
  30. Kern 1884.
  31. Soothill 1930.
  32. Kato 1975.
  33. Murano 1974.
  34. Hurvitz 2009.
  35. Kuo-lin 1977.
  36. Kubo 2007.
  37. Watson 2009.
  38. Reeves 2008.
  39. Robert 1997.
  40. Tola 1999.
  41. Borsig 2009.
  42. Deeg 2007.
  43. Teiser, edited by Stephen F.; Stone, Jacqueline I. (2009). "Translation of the Lotus Sutra into European Languages". Readings of the Lotus Sutra. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 6036–6151 (Kindle locations). ISBN 9780231520430. 
  44. Buswell 2013, p. 153.
  45. Suguro 1998, p. 19.
  46. Kern 1884, p. 7.
  47. Apple 2012, p. 162.
  48. Murano 1967, p. 25.
  49. Suguro 1998, p. 31.
  50. Suguro 1998, pp. 34-35.
  51. Pye 2003, p. 23.
  52. Groner 2014, pp. 8-9.
  53. Williams 1989, p. 155.
  54. Pye 2003, p. 37-39.
  55. Suzuki 2015, p. 170.
  56. Lai 1981, p. 91.
  57. Pye 2003, p. 40-42.
  58. Murano 1967, p. 34-35.
  59. Pye 2003, p. 42-45.
  60. Pye 2003, p. 48.
  61. 61.0 61.1 Williams 1989, p. 156.
  62. Federman 2009, p. 132.
  63. Lopez 2015, p. 29.
  64. Murano 1967, pp. 38-39.
  65. Pye 2003, p. 46.
  66. Lopez 2015, p. 28.
  67. Wawrytko 2007, p. 74.
  68. Zimmermann 1999, p. 162.
  69. Murano 1967, p. 39.
  70. Tamura 1963, p. 812.
  71. Shioiri 1989, pp. 31-33.
  72. Buswell 2013, p. 654.
  73. 73.0 73.1 Strong 2007, p. 38.
  74. Hirakawa 2005, p. 202.
  75. Murano 1967, p. 42-43.
  76. Lai 1981, p. 459-460.
  77. Teiser 2009, p. 12.
  78. Peach 2002, p. 57-58.
  79. Silk 2016, p. 150.
  80. Suguro 1998, pp. 115-118.
  81. Apple 2012, p. 168.
  82. Murano 1967, p. 50-52.
  83. Pye 2003, p. 51-54.
  84. Williams 1989, p. 157.
  85. Zimmermann 1999, p. 159.
  86. Suzuki 2016, p. 1162.
  87. Murano 1967, pp. 65-66.
  88. Tamura 1989, p. 45.
  89. Murano 1967, p. 66.
  90. Tamura 1963, p. 813.
  91. 91.0 91.1 Shioiri 1989, p. 29.
  92. Williams 1989, p. 160.
  93. Benn 2007, p. 59.
  94. Ohnuma 1998, p. 324.
  95. Suzuki 2015, p. 1187.
  96. Murano 1967, pp. 73.
  97. Chün-fang 1997, p. 414-415.
  98. Baroni 2002, p. 15.
  99. Wang 2005, p. 226.
  100. Murano 1967, pp. 76-78.
  101. Suguro 1998, p. 170.
  102. Tay 1980, p. 373.
  103. Wang 2005, pp. XXI-XXII.
  104. Shioiri 1989, p. 30.
  105. Murano 1967, pp. 81-83.
  106. The Walters Art Museum.
  107. Williams 1989, p. 151.
  108. Abe 2015, p. 29, 36, 37.
  109. Reeves 2008, p. 14.
  110. Reeves 2008, p. 1.
  111. Shiki 1983, p. 17.
  112. Hurvitz 1976, p. 239.
  113. 113.0 113.1 Jessica Ganga (2016), Donald Lopez on the Lotus Sutra, Princeton University Press Blog
  114. Mochizuki 2011, pp. 1169-1177.
  115. Groner 2014, p. 5.
  116. Abbot 2013, p. 87.
  117. Silk 2001, pp. 87,90,91.
  118. "The Final Word: An Interview with Jacqueline Stone". Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. 2006. Retrieved April 27, 2013. 
  119. Teiser 2009.
  120. Kim 1985, pp. 3.
  121. https://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/nfile/4327
  122. Magnin 1979.
  123. Kirchner 2009, p. 193.
  124. 124.0 124.1 124.2 Williams 1989, p. 162.
  125. Groner 2000, pp. 199–200.
  126. Tanahashi 1995, p. 4.
  127. Stone 2003, p. 277.
  128. Stone 2009, p. 220.
  129. Stone 1998, p. 138.
  130. 130.0 130.1 Leighton 2005, pp. 85–105.
  131. Leighton.
  132. The Lotus Sutra in Japanese Culture, George Tanabe, University of Hawaii Press, Page 40
  133. Leighton 2007, pp. 85–105.
  134. Yampolsky 1971, pp. 86-123.
  135. Watson 2009, p. xxix.
  136. Lopez 2016, p. 17, 265.
  137. Kurata 1987.
  138. Wang 2005.
  139. Wang 2005, p. 68.
  140. Paine 1981, p. 41.
  141. Lim 2014, p. 33.
  142. Tamura 2009, p. 56.
  143. Hurvitz 2009, p. 5.
  144. Yamada 1989.
  145. Tanabe, George J. Jr. (Ed); Tanabe, Willa Jane (Ed); Yamada, Shozen (1989). The Lotus Sutra in Japanese culture (Repr. ed.). Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. p. 105. ISBN 9780824811983. 
  146. Shioiri 1989, p. 16.
  147. Rubio, Carlos. "The Lotus Sutra in Japanese literature: A spring rain" (PDF). Institute of Oriental Philosophy. Institute of Oriental Philosophy. 
  148. Dykstra 1983.
  149. Mulhern 1989, p. 16.
  150. Pye 2003, p. 177-178.
  151. Pye 2003, p. 173-174.
  152. Teiser 2009, p. 7-8.
  153. Kajiyama 2000, p. 73.
  154. Karashima 2015, p. 163.
  155. Apple 2012, pp. 161-162.
  156. Silk 2016, p. 152.
  157. Bingenheimer 2009, p. 72.
  158. Kern 1884, pp. 129-141.
  159. Lopez Jr., Donald S. (2016). "The Life of the Lotus Sutra". Tricycle Magazine (Winter). 
  160. Silk 2012, pp. 125–54.
  161. Deeg 2012, pp. 133–153.
  162. Shields 2013, pp. 512–523.
  163. Deeg 2012, p. 146.
  164. Reader, Ian. "JAPANESE NEW RELIGIONS: AN OVERVIEW" (PDF). The World Religions & Spirituality Project (WRSP). Virginia Commonwealth University. p. 16. Retrieved April 13, 2017. 
  165. Metraux, Daniel (2010). How Soka Gakkai Became a Global Buddhist Movement: The Internationalization of a Japanese Religion. Virginia Review of Asian Studies. ISBN 0-7734-3758-4. 
  166. Lopez, Donald S, Jr. (2016). The Lotus Sutra: A Biography. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press. pp. 232, 109–115, 191–195, 201–215. ISBN 978-0-691-15220-2. 
  167. Stone, Jacqueline I. Teiser, Stephen F.; Stone, Jacqueline I., eds. Realizing This World as a Buddhaland (PDF). Columbia University Press. pp. 227–230. ISBN 9780231142892. 
  168. Covell, Stephen G. (2014). "Interfaith Dialogue and a Lotus Practitioner: Yamada Etai, the "Lotus Sutra", and the Religious Summit Meeting on Mt. Hiei". Japanese Journal of Religious Studies. 41 (1): 191–217. doi:10.18874/jjrs.41.1.2014.191-217. JSTOR 23784405. 
  169. Reeves, Gene (Dec 1, 2001). "Introduction: The Lotus Sutra and Process Thought". Journal of Chinese Philosophy. 28 (4): 355. doi:10.1111/0301-8121.00053. 
  170. Groner, Paul; Stone, Jacqueline I (2014). "The Lotus Sutra in Japan". Japanese Journal of Religious Studies. 41 (1): 2. 
  171. O'Leary, Joseph S. (2003). "Review of Gene Reeves, ed. A Buddhist Kaleidoscope: Essays on the Lotus Sutra". Japanese Journal of Religious Studies. 30 (-/2): 175–178. 
  172. "A Discussion with Gene Reeves, Consultant, Rissho Kosei-kai and the Niwano Peace Foundation". Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs. Georgetown University. November 25, 2009. Retrieved 13 April 2017. 
  173. MURUGAPPAN, REVATHI (May 24, 2014). "Lotus Sutra's Dance of Peace". The Star Online. Retrieved 23 April 2017. 


Further reading

  • Hanh, Thich Nhat (2003). Opening the heart of the cosmos: insights from the Lotus Sutra. Berkeley, Calif.: Parallax. ISBN 1888375337. 
  • Hanh, Thich Nhat (2009). Peaceful action, open heart: lessons from the Lotus Sutra. Berkeley, Calif.: Parallax Press. ISBN 1888375930. 
  • Ikeda, Daisaku; Endo, Takanori; Saito, Katsuji; Sudo, Haruo (2000). Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra: A Discussion, Volume 1. Santa Monica, CA: World Tribune Press. ISBN 978-0915678693. 
  • Niwano, Nikkyō (1976). Buddhism for today : a modern interpretation of the Threefold Lotus sutra (PDF) (1st ed.). Tokyo: Kosei Publishing Co. ISBN 4333002702. Archived from the original on 2013-11-26. 
  • Rawlinson, Andrew (1972). Studies in the Lotus Sutra (Saddharmapuṇḍarīka), Ph. D. Thesis, University of Lancaster. OCLC 38717855
  • Tamura, Yoshiro (2014). Introduction to the lotus sutra. [S.l.]: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 1614290806. 
  • Tanabe, George J.; Tanabe, Willa Jane (ed.) (1989). The Lotus Sutra in Japanese Culture. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-1198-4. 
  • Tola, Fernando, Dragonetti, Carmen (2009). Buddhist positiveness: studies on the Lotus Sūtra, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publ. ISBN 978-81-208-3406-4.

External links

This article includes content from Lotus Sutra on Wikipedia (view authors). License under CC BY-SA 3.0. Wikipedia logo