Lotus Sutra

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The White Lotus of the Good Dharma (Skt. Saddharmapuṇḍarīka-sūtra; Tib. དམ་པའི་ཆོས་པད་མ་དཀར་པོའི་མདོ།, Wyl. dam pa’i chos pad ma dkar po mdo; Chi. Fahuajing; Jap. Hokkeyō), popularly known as the Lotus Sutra is one of the most popular and influential Mahayana sutras. It was taught by Buddha Shakyamuni on Vulture's Peak to an audience of bodhisattvas. Buddha Prabhutaratna, who had long since passed into nirvana, appears within a floating stupa to hear the sutra, and Shakyamuni enters the stupa and sits beside him.

The Lotus Sutra is celebrated, particularly in East Asia, for its presentation of crucial elements of the Mahayana tradition, such as the doctrine that there is only one yana (Skt. ekayāna); the distinction between expedient and definite teachings; and the notion that the Buddha’s life, enlightenment, and parinirvana were simply manifestations of his transcendent buddhahood, while he continues to teach eternally.

A recurring theme in the sutra is its own significance in teaching these points during past and future eons, with many passages in which the Buddha and bodhisattvas such as Bodhisattva Samantabhadra describe the great benefits that come from devotion to it, the history of its past devotees, and how it is the Buddha’s ultimate teaching, supreme over all other sutras.[1]

The Lotus Sutra is probably one of the most ancient sutras of the Mahayana. It could have been written down between the beginning of our Common Era and year 150 (for chapters 1 and 2), with a few later additions.[2]

Sanskrit Text

Sanskrit versions of the text have been found in Gilit (6th c.) and in Nepal (12th c.).[3]

Chinese Translation

This text was translated into Chinese several times over the centuries, mainly by:

  • Dharmaraksa (286),
  • Kumārajīva (406), which is the most definitive version, and
  • Jñānagupta and Dharmagupta (601).[4]

Tibetan Translation

The Sanskrit text was translated into Tibetan in the 9th century by Yeshé Dé with the help of the Indian pandita Surendrabodhi. It can be found in:

Modern Translations

In English from the Sanskrit Version

  • The Lotus of the True law, translated by H. Kern (1884). Available here.

In English from the Chinese Version

  • The Lotus Sutra: A Contemporary Translation of a Buddhist Classic, translated by Gene Reeves (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2008)

In English from the Tibetan Version

In French

  • Le lotus de la bonne loi, translated by Emile Burnouf from the Sanskrit version (Paris, 1854)
  • Le Sûtra du lotus blanc de la loi merveilleuse, translated by André Chédel from the Chiense version (Paris: Dervy Livres, 1975)
  • Le Sûtra du lotus, translated by Jean-Noël Robert from Kumārajīva's Chinese version (Paris: Fayard, 1997)

Further Reading

  • Jacqueline Stone and Donald Lopez Jr., Two Buddhas Seated Side by Side: A Guide to the Lotus Sutra (Princeton Press, 2019)

References

  1. 84000 Translating the Words of the Buddha.
  2. Philippe Cornu, Dictionnaire Encyclopédique du Bouddhisme (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 2006), page 558.
  3. Cornu, ibid.
  4. Cornu, ibid.

External Links