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The earliest known Sanskrit title for the sūtra is the Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra, which translates to "the Good Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra." In English, the shortened form Lotus Sūtra is common. The Lotus Sūtra has also been highly regarded in a number of Asian countries where Mahāyāna Buddhism has been traditionally practiced. Translations of this title into the languages of some of these countries include:
- Sanskrit: सद्धर्मपुण्डरीकसूत्र Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra
- Chinese: 妙法蓮華經 miàofǎ liánhuá jīng, shortened to 法華經 fǎhuá jīng
- Japanese: 妙法蓮華経 myōhō-renge-kyō, shortened to 法華経 hokke-kyō, hoke-kyō
- Korean: 묘법연화경 myobeop yeonhwa gyeong, shortened to 법화경 beophwa gyeong
- Standard Tibetan: དམ་ཆོས་པད་མ་དཀར་པོའི་མདོ dam chos pad-ma dkar po'i mdo
- Vietnamese Diệu pháp liên hoa kinh, shortened to Pháp hoa kinh
- Sinhala language: Arya Saddharma Pundareeka Suthraya
History and background
The oldest parts of the text (Chapters 1–9 and 17) were probably written down between 100 BC and 100 AD, and most of the text had appeared by 200 AD.
The Lotus Sūtra presents itself as a discourse delivered by the Buddha toward the end of His life. The tradition in Mahayana states that the sutra was written down at the time of the Buddha and stored for five hundred years in a realm of snake gods (nāgas). After this they were reintroduced into the human realm at the time of the Fourth Buddhist Council in Kashmir. The sutra's teachings purport to be of a higher order than those contained in the āgamas of the Sūtra Piṭaka, and that humanity had been unable to understand the sutra at the time of the Buddha, and thus the teaching had to be held back.
The Lotus Sūtra was originally translated from Sanskrit into Chinese by Dharmarakṣa, aka Zhu Fahu, in 286 AD in Chang'an during the Western Jin Period (265-317 AD). 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. 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." According to Burton Watson it may have originally been composed in a Prakrit dialect and then later translated into Sanskrit to lend it greater respectability.
This early translation by Dharmarakṣa was superseded by a translation in seven fascicles by Kumārajīva in 406 AD, although it is known that Kumārajīva made extensive use of the earlier version to the extent of borrowing readings directly from Dharmarakṣa's version. The Chinese title is usually abbreviated to 法華經, which is read Fǎ Huá Jīng in Chinese and Hokekyō in Japanese, Beophwagyeong in Korean, and Pháp Hoa Kinh" in Vietnamese. The Sanskrit editions are not widely used outside of academia.
Modern scholars have not released much of the sutra on early fragments, except to say that they are not dependent on the Chinese or Tibetan Lotus Sūtras. Furthermore, other scholars have noted how the cryptic Dharani passages within the Lotus Sūtra represent a form of the Magadhi dialect that is more similar to Pali than Sanskrit. For instance, one Dharani reads in part: "Buddhavilokite Dharmaparikshite". Although the vilo is attested in Sanskrit, it appears first in the Buddhist Pali texts as "vilokita" with the meaning of "a vigilant looker" from vi, denoting intensification, and lok, etymologically connoting "to look".
- The Lotus Sutra of the Correct Dharma, in ten volumes and twenty seven chapters, translated by Dharmaraksa in 286 AD.
- The Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Dharma, in eight volumes and twenty eight chapters, translated by Kumārajīva in 406 AD.
- The Supplemented Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Dharma, in seven volumes and twenty-seven chapters, translated by Jnanagupta and Dharmagupta in 601 AD.
This sutra is known for its extensive instruction on the concept and usage of skillful means – (Sanskrit: upāya, Japanese: hōben), the seventh paramita or perfection of a Bodhisattva – mostly in the form of parables. It is also one of the first sutras to use the term Mahāyāna, or "Great Vehicle", Buddhism. Another concept introduced by the Lotus Sūtra is the idea that the Buddha is an eternal entity, who achieved nirvana eons ago, but willingly chose to remain in the cycle of rebirth (samsara) 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 movement and meaning of the scripture, in which another Buddha, who passed long before, appears and communicates with Shakyamuni himself. In the vision of the Lotus Sūtra, Buddhas are ultimately immortal. A similar doctrine of the eternality of Buddhas is repeatedly expounded in the tathāgatagarbha sutras, which share certain family resemblances with the teachings of the Lotus Sūtra.
The sutra speaks of a higher teaching but it "doesn’t provide specific practices beyond the reading, copying, reciting, and preaching of the Sutra after the Buddha’s passing."
The Lotus Sūtra also indicates (in Chapter 4) that emptiness (śūnyatā) is not the ultimate vision to be attained by the aspirant Bodhisattva: the attainment of Buddha Wisdom is indicated to be a bliss-bestowing treasure that transcends seeing all as merely empty or merely labeled.
In terms of literary style, the Lotus Sūtra illustrates a sense of timelessness and the inconceivable, often using large numbers and measurements of time and space. Some of the other Buddhas mentioned in the Lotus Sūtra are said to have lifetimes of dozens or hundreds of kalpas, while the number of Bodhisattvas mentioned in the "Earth Bodhisattva" chapter number in the billions, if not more.
The ultimate teaching of the sutra is implied to the reader that "full Buddhahood" is only arrived at by exposure to the truths expressed implicitly in the Lotus Sūtra via its many parables and references to a heretofore less clearly imagined cosmological order. Skillful means of most enlightened Buddhas is itself the highest teaching (the Lotus Sūtra itself), in conjunction with the sutra's stated tenets that all other teachings are subservient to, propagated by and in the service of this highest truth, that there are not actually Three Vehicles as previously taught, but only One Vehicle leading to Buddhahood. The text also implies a parent-child relationship between Shakyamuni Buddha and living beings.
Crucially, not only are there multiple Buddhas in this view, but an infinite stream of Buddhas extending through unquantifiable eons of time ("thousands of kotis of kalpas") in a ceaseless cycle of creations and conflagrations.
In the vision set out in this sutra, moreover, not only are Buddhas innumerable, but the universe encompasses realms of gods, devas, dragons and other mythological beings, requiring numerous dimensions to contain them. Buddhas are portrayed as the patient teachers of all such beings.
Some sources consider the Lotus Sūtra to have a prologue and epilogue: respectively the Innumerable Meanings Sutra (無量義經 Ch: Wú Liáng Yì Jīng Jp: Muryōgi Kyō) and the Sutra of Meditation on the Bodhisattva Universal Worthy (普賢經 Ch: Pǔ Xián Jīng Jp: Fugen Kyō).
The Lotus Sūtra claims to be superior to other sūtras. 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!"
Chapter fourteen states:
"Among the sutras, it holds the highest place."
Zhiyi, the generally credited founder of the Tiantai school of Buddhism, was the student of Nanyue Huisi who was the leading authority of his time on the Lotus Sūtra. Consequently, the Lotus Sūtra is a very important sutra in Tiantai and correspondingly, Japanese Tendai. Tendai Buddhism was the dominant form of mainstream Buddhism in Japan for many years and future proponents of the Lotus Sūtra Nichiren and Dogen were trained as Tendai monks.
Nichiren, a 13th-century Japanese Buddhist monk, founded an entire school of Buddhism based on his belief that the Lotus Sūtra was "the highest and ultimate teaching of Buddhism" and that it "contained the essence of the Buddha's enlightenment and that it held the key to transforming people's suffering and enabling society to flourish."
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" 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."
Translations in Western languages
- Burnouf, Eugène (tr.). Le Lotus de la Bonne Loi : Traduit du sanskrit, accompagné d'un commentaire et de vingt et un mémoires relatifs au Bouddhisme. Paris 1852 (Imprimerie Nationale). – French translation from Sanskrit, first in Western language.
- Margareta von Borsig (tr.): Lotos-Sutra - Das große Erleuchtungsbuch des Buddhismus. Verlag Herder, Neuausgabe 2009. ISBN 978-3-451-30156-8 First complete translation into German.
- Kern, H. (tr.). Saddharma Pundarîka or the Lotus of the True Law. Oxford 1884 (Clarendon Press) Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XXI, New York 1963 (Dover), Delhi 1968. Translation from Sanskrit.
- Soothill, W. E. (tr.). The Lotus of the Wonderful Law or The Lotus Gospel. Oxford 1930 (Clarendon Press). Abridged translation from the Chinese of Kumārajīva.
- Murano Senchū (tr.). The Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law. Tokyo 1974 (Nichiren Shu Headquarters). Reprint: University of Hawaii Press 2013. (Translation from the Chinese of Kumārajīva)
- Katō Bunno, Tamura Yoshirō, Miyasaka Kōjirō (tr.), The Threefold Lotus Sutra : The Sutra of Innumerable Meanings; The Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law; The Sutra of Meditation on the Bodhisattva Universal Virtue. New York & Tōkyō 1975 (Weatherhill & Kōsei Publishing).
- Hurvitz, Leon (tr.). Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma: The Lotus Sutra. New York 1976 (Columbia University Press). Records of Civilization: Sources and Studies. Translation from the Chinese of Kumārajīva.
- Kuo-lin Lethcoe (ed.). The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra with the Commentary of Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua. Translated by the Buddhist Text Translation Society. San Francisco 1977 (Buddhist Text Translation Society). Translation from the Chinese of Kumārajīva.
- Watson, Burton (tr.). The Lotus Sutra. Columbia University Press, New York 1993. Translations from the Asian Classics. ISBN 0231081618 (Translation from the Chinese of Kumārajīva)
- Kubo Tsugunari, Yuyama Akira (tr.) The Lotus Sutra. Revised 2nd ed. Berkeley, Calif. : Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2007. Translation from the Chinese of Kumārajīva with input from the Central Asian Kashgar Sanskrit manuscript. ISBN 978-1-886439-39-9
- Reeves, Gene (tr.) The Lotus Sutra : A Contemporary Translation of a Buddhist Classic. Boston 2008 (Wisdom Publications), ISBN 0-86171-571-3. xii + 492 pp. Translation from the Chinese of Kumārajīva. Includes also the opening and closing sutras The Sutra of Innumerable Meanings and The Sutra of Contemplation of the Dharma Practice of Universal Sage Bodhisattva.
- Arya Saddharma Pundareeka Suthraya - Prof. W.M.Gunathilake and Senior Lecturer Thilak S. Subasinghe. Directly translated from the Sanskrit.
- Williams, Paul (1989). Mahāyāna Buddhism: the doctrinal foundations. Routledge. p. 142. ISBN 9780415356534.
- Seishi Karashima. A Glossary of Dharmarakṣa’s Translation of the Lotus Sūtra, Bibliotheca Philologica et Philosophica Buddhica, Vol. I, The International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology, Tokyo 1998, p. VIII, ISBN 4-9980622-0-. Archived from the original (27 MB)
- E. Zurcher The Buddhist Conquest of China, 57-69
- Nattier, Jan (2008). A guide to the Earliest Chinese Buddhist Translations. International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology, Soka University. p. 22. ISBN 9784904234006.
- Watson, Burton (tr.). The Lotus Sutra. New York 1993 (Columbia University Press), p. IX
- Seishi Karashima. A Glossary of Kumarajiva's Translation of the Lotus Sutra, Bibliotheca Philologica et Philosophica Buddhica, Vol. , The International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology, Vol. IV, Tokyo 2001, p. VII, ISBN 4-9980622-3-9. Archived from the original
- * Hendrik Kern; B. Nanjio (ed.); Saddharmapuṇḍarīka; St. Pétersbourg (Imprimerie de l'Académie Impériale des Sciences), Bibliotheca Buddhica, 10, Vol. 1-5, 1912. Vol.1, 3,7 MB, Vol. 2, 3,7 MB, Vol 3, 3,6 MB, Vol. 4, 3,6 MB, Vol. 5, 5,4 MB (in Nāgarī)
- Vaidya, P. L.: Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtram. The Mithila Institute of Post-Graduate Studies and Research in Sanskrit Learning, Darbhanga 1960. (romanized Sanskrit)
- PTS "Pali-English Dictionary" (1921-25), "vi-", accessed 23 Jan. 2011 from "U. Chicago" at http://dsal.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/philologic/getobject.pl?c.3:1:1281.pali .
- For a translation of the Sanskrit vi-lok and associated cognates, see Monier Williams' "Sanskrit-English Dictionary" (1899), p. 986, "vi-lok," accessed 23 Jan. 2011 from "U. Cologne" at http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/cgi-bin/monier/serveimg.pl?file=/scans/MWScan/MWScanjpg/mw0986-viluNT.jpg . For a translation of vilokita as a Pali word, see PTS "Pali-English Dictionary" (PED), "viloketi" (where vilokita is a past participle of the Pali verb, viloketi) accessed 23 Jan. 2011 from "U. Chicago" at http://dsal.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/philologic/getobject.pl?c.3:1:1952.pali . For the PED's definition of loka (generally referring to the seen or visible world), see http://dsal.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/philologic/getobject.pl?c.3:1:824.pali . In the Pali canon, the word vilokita can be found in AN 4.103 and AN 8.10 (SLTP redaction). Upalavanna's translation of AN 4.103 (accessed 23 Jan. 2011 from "MettaNet" at http://metta.lk/tipitaka/2Sutta-Pitaka/4Anguttara-Nikaya/Anguttara2/4-catukkanipata/011-valahakavaggo-e.html , sutta 3, "Kumbhasuttaṃ" ), for example, translates vilokitaṃ as "scrutinizing".
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- Kirchner, Thomas Yuho; Sasaki, Ruth Fuller. The Record of Linji. University of Hawaii Press. p. 193. ISBN 9780824833190.
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- Kern, H. "The Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law". The Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
- Cole, Alan (2005). Text as Father: Paternal Seductions in Early Mahayana Buddhist Literature. University of California Press. Chapters 2 and 3 of this work present a close reading of the first four chapters of the Lotus Sūtra.
- Nattier, Jan (2008). A Guide to the Earliest Chinese Buddhist Translations, Bibliotheca Philologica et Philosophica Buddhica X, IRIABS Tokyo.PDF
- Pye, Michael (1978). Skilful Means - A concept in Mahayana Buddhism. London, UK: Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd. ISBN 0-7156-1266-2. 2nd edition: Routledge 2003.
- Shinjo Suguro (1998): Introduction to the Lotus Sutra, Jain Publishing Company. ISBN 0875730787
- Tanabe, George J.; Tanabe, Willa Jane (ed.) (1989). The Lotus Sutra in Japanese Culture. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu. ISBN 0-8248-1198-4. [II, 15]
- Tola, Fernando, Dragonetti, Carmen (2009). Buddhist positiveness: studies on the Lotus Sūtra, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 978-81-208-3406-4.
|Chinese Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- An 1884 English translation by H.Kern from the Sacred Texts Web site
- Article that comments on the Lotus Sūtra, including origin and relationship with other Sutras
- An English translation by the Buddhist Text Translation Society
- The Threefold Lotus Sutra translated by Bunno Kato retrieved 08/07/2013
- The Lotus Sūtra translated by Tsugunari Kubo and Akira Yuyama (2009) retrieved 08/07/2013
- R.C. Jamieson (2002). "Sanskrit Lotus Sutra Manuscripts from Cambridge University Library (Add. 1682 and Add. 1683)" (PDF). Journal of Oriental Studies 12 (6): 165–173. Retrieved 2009-09-01.