The White Lotus of the Good Dharma
The Extent of the Merit
Degé Kangyur, vol. 51 (mdo sde, ja), folios 1.b–180.b
Translated by Peter Alan Roberts
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
First published 2018
Current version v 1.2.12 (2022)
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The White Lotus of the Good Dharma, popularly known as the Lotus Sūtra, is taught by Buddha Śākyamuni on Vulture Peak to an audience that includes bodhisattvas from countless realms, as well as bodhisattvas who emerge from under the ground, from the space below this world. Buddha Prabhūtaratna, who has long since passed into nirvāṇa, appears within a floating stūpa to hear the sūtra, and Śākyamuni enters the stūpa and sits beside him. The Lotus Sūtra is celebrated, particularly in East Asia, for its presentation of crucial elements of the Mahāyāna tradition, such as the doctrine that there is only one yāna, or “vehicle”; the distinction between expedient and definite teachings; and the notion that the Buddha’s life, enlightenment, and parinirvāṇa were simply manifestations of his transcendent buddhahood, while he continues to teach eternally. A recurring theme in the sūtra is its own significance in teaching these points during past and future eons, with many passages in which the Buddha and bodhisattvas such as 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 sūtras.
The White Lotus of the Good Dharma Sūtra was translated from Tibetan with reference to the Sanskrit by Peter Alan Roberts. Ling Lung Chen was the consultant for the Chinese versions. Emily Bower was the project manager and editor. Ben Gleason was the proofreader.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
The generous sponsorship of May & George Gu, which helped make the work on this translation possible, is most gratefully acknowledged.
The Extent of the Merit
When the teaching of the Tathāgata’s lifespan was taught it benefited innumerable, countless beings. The Bhagavān said at that time to the bodhisattva mahāsattva Maitreya, “Ajita, when the Dharma teaching that teaches the Tathāgata’s lifespan was given, a hundred thousand quintillion bodhisattvas, as numerous as the grains of sand in sixty-eight Ganges Rivers, developed receptivity to the birthlessness of phenomena.
“A thousand times more bodhisattva mahāsattvas than that attained the power of retention.
“Other bodhisattva mahāsattvas, as numerous as the atoms in a world realm of a thousand458 worlds, heard this Dharma teaching and attained unimpeded eloquence.
“Other bodhisattva mahāsattvas, as numerous as the atoms in a world realm of a million worlds,459 heard this Dharma teaching and attained a hundred thousandfold power of retention.460
“Other bodhisattva mahāsattvas, as numerous as the atoms in a world realm of a billion worlds,461 [F.123.a] heard this Dharma teaching and turned the irreversible wheel.
“Other bodhisattva mahāsattvas, as numerous as the atoms in the intermediate thousandfold world realm,462 heard this Dharma teaching and turned the Dharma wheel called stainless light.
“Other bodhisattva mahāsattvas, as numerous as the atoms in the lesser thousandfold world realm,463 heard this Dharma teaching and developed the aspiration to the highest, complete enlightenment after eight lifetimes.
“Other bodhisattva mahāsattvas, as numerous as the atoms in four four-continent world realms, heard this Dharma teaching and developed the aspiration to the highest, complete enlightenment after four lifetimes.
“Other bodhisattva mahāsattvas, as numerous as the atoms in three four-continent world realms, heard this Dharma teaching and developed the aspiration to the highest, complete enlightenment after three lifetimes.
“Other bodhisattva mahāsattvas, as numerous as the atoms in two four-continent world realms, heard this Dharma teaching and developed the aspiration to the highest, complete enlightenment after two lifetimes.
“Other bodhisattva mahāsattvas, as numerous as the atoms in one four-continent world realm, heard this Dharma teaching and developed the aspiration to the highest, complete enlightenment in one lifetime.
“Bodhisattva mahāsattvas as numerous as the atoms in eight world realms of a thousand million worlds heard this Dharma teaching and developed the aspiration to the highest, complete enlightenment.”
As soon as the Bhagavān had taught this foundation, this understanding of the Dharma, to those bodhisattvas, in that moment, from the sky above [F.123.b] there descended a great rainfall of coral tree flowers and great coral tree flowers. They were sprinkled and scattered over a hundred thousand quintillion buddhas seated on lion thrones at the foot of precious trees in a hundred thousand quintillion world realms.
They were sprinkled and scattered over the bhagavān, the tathāgata, the arhat, the perfectly enlightened buddha Śākyamuni and the bhagavān, the tathāgata, the arhat, the perfectly enlightened buddha Prabhūtaratna, who had passed into nirvāṇa, who were both seated on lion thrones. They were sprinkled and scattered over the complete gathering of bodhisattvas. They were sprinkled and scattered over the fourfold assembly. Divine sandalwood and agarwood powders fell from the sky. There resounded from the sky above the beautiful, melodious, and gentle sounds of drums, without their being beaten. Hundreds of thousands of pairs of divine calico cloths fell from above. Short necklaces, long necklaces, flower garlands, precious jewels, and huge precious jewels were hung in every direction. Hundreds of thousands of censers made from precious materials and containing priceless incense moved around by themselves. Above each tathāgata, bodhisattva mahāsattvas in the sky held a tier of precious parasols that reached up to the realm of Brahmā. In this way, above all those hundred thousand quintillion buddhas, bodhisattva mahāsattvas in the sky held tiers of precious parasols, reaching as high as the realm of Brahmā. Each of them praised those tathāgatas with praises of the buddhas rendered into verse.
At that time the bodhisattva mahāsattva Maitreya spoke these verses: [F.124.a]
The Bhagavān said to the bodhisattva mahāsattva Maitreya, “Ajita, those beings who have just once developed aspiration, developed motivation, or gained faith when this Dharma teaching that teaches the extent of the lifespan of the Tathāgata was taught, how much merit have such noble men or noble women created? Listen well and remember, for I shall explain how much merit they have created.
“Ajita, it is like this: If a noble man or noble woman, wishing for the highest, complete enlightenment, were to practice, for eight hundred thousand quintillion eons, the five perfections, which are the perfection of generosity, the perfection of correct conduct, the perfection of patience, [F.125.a] the perfection of diligence, and the perfection of meditation, without the perfection of wisdom, and, Ajita, if there were a noble man or noble woman who had one time developed aspiration, developed motivation, or gained faith when this Dharma teaching that teaches the extent of the lifespan of the Tathāgata was taught, then that former accumulation of the roots of merit—the merit accumulated by completing the five perfections during eight hundred thousand quintillion eons—would not equal a hundredth part, not a thousandth, not a hundred thousandth, not a ten millionth, not a thousand millionth, not ten thousand millionth, not a million millionth, and not even a hundred thousand quintillionth part. The merit could not be calculated; even a fraction of it could not be calculated—there is no suitable analogy for it, and there is no suitable simile for it.
“Ajita, it is impossible for the progress toward the highest, complete enlightenment made by a noble man or noble woman who possesses such an accumulation of merit to be reversible.”
“Moreover, Ajita, if someone who hears, enters, follows, and comprehends this Dharma teaching that teaches the lifespan of the Tathāgata will generate a supremely incalculable accumulation of merit that leads to the wisdom of buddhahood, it goes without saying that someone who hears this kind of Dharma teaching, proclaims it, maintains it, writes it, has it written, and honors the text or has others honor it with flowers, incense, perfume, garlands, ointments, powders, clothing, parasols, banners, flags, sesame oil lamps, ghee lamps, and perfumed oil lamps will generate a far greater accumulation of merit that leads to the wisdom of buddhahood.
“Ajita, when a noble man or noble woman hears this Dharma teaching that teaches the lifespan of the Tathāgata and aspires to it with a superior motivation, know that their superior motivation has these characteristics: They see me at Vulture Peak, encircled and honored by an assembly of bodhisattvas, teaching the Dharma at the center of the saṅgha of śrāvakas. They see my buddha realm, this Sahā world realm, to have a ground made of beryl that is level, divided like a checkerboard with golden cords, and to be adorned by trees made of precious materials. They see bodhisattvas residing in perfectly enjoyable kūṭāgāras. [F.126.b]
“Ajita, know these to be the characteristics of the superior motivation of the noble men or noble women who have aspiration with a superior motivation.
“Moreover, Ajita, I say that those noble ones who have a superior motivation are those who hear this Dharma teaching after the Tathāgata has passed into nirvāṇa and do not reject it, but rejoice in it, let alone those who maintain it and read it.
“Ajita, the noble man or noble woman who makes a text of this Dharma teaching and carries it on their shoulder is carrying the Tathāgata on their shoulder.467
“Ajita, that noble man or noble woman does not need to build a stūpa for me, does not need to build a temple, nor do they need to give utensils to the saṅgha of bhikṣus, or medicine when they are ill.
“Why is that? Ajita, that noble man or noble woman will have made an offering to my body, having created a stūpa made of the seven precious materials that is as high as the realm of Brahmā, encircled by a circumambulatory walkway, with parasols upon it, with flags and ringing bells. They will have honored it in many ways with divine and human flowers, perfume, incense, garlands, ointments, powders, cloth, parasols, banners, flags, and flags of victory. For many countless hundreds of thousands of quintillions of eons, they will have honored it with beautiful, melodious, clear sounds of many kinds of kettledrums,468 and large kettledrums; the sound of musical instruments and percussion; different kinds of song, dance, and amusements; and countless different kinds of music.
“Ajita, the one who after my passing into nirvāṇa possesses this Dharma teaching and reads it, writes it out, and teaches it, [F.127.a] will for my sake have created a high, vast temple made of red sandalwood, with thirty-two mansions that have eight floors, as a residence for a thousand bhikṣus, with gardens beautified by flowers, with groves that have walkways, with beds and seats, filled with food and drink—hard food and soft food—and medicine for when there is illness, and adorned with things that bring happiness. They will have offered many of these, countless numbers of these—a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand, ten million, a thousand million, a trillion, a hundred thousand quintillion—in my presence, to the saṅgha of śrāvakas, and it should be known that I will have enjoyed them.
“Ajita, I say that if someone possesses this Dharma teaching after the Tathāgata has passed into nirvāṇa, and reads it, teaches it, writes it, or has someone write it, then because of this Dharma teaching there is no need for them to build a stūpa for my relics after I have passed into nirvāṇa, and no need to make an offering to the saṅgha, let alone, Ajita, someone who while possessing this Dharma teaching accomplishes generosity, correct conduct, patience, diligence, meditation, and wisdom. That noble man or noble woman will generate an infinite, countless, innumerable aggregation of merit, Ajita, in the same way that the directions of east, south, west, north, above and below, and the intermediate directions in the element of space have no end.
“That noble man or noble woman who possesses this Dharma teaching, and reads it, teaches it, writes it, or has someone write it, accumulates an infinite, countless, innumerable aggregation of merit for the wisdom of buddhahood. They will be dedicated to honoring the caitya of the Tathāgata. [F.127.b] They will recite the praises of the Tathāgata’s śrāvakas. They will describe the hundred thousand quintillion qualities of the bodhisattva mahāsattvas and teach them to others again and again.
“They will accomplish patience, possess correct conduct, and will delight in the company of those with virtuous qualities; they will be patient, self-controlled, without envy, free of anger, without malicious intentions, mindful, strong, diligent, and constantly dedicated to seeking the Buddha’s Dharma; they will be meditators, will be devoted to solitary meditation, will frequently be in solitary meditation, and be skilled in questions and discrimination, and able to answer a hundred thousand quintillion questions.
“Ajita, I have described the qualities of the bodhisattva mahāsattvas who will maintain this Dharma teaching after I have passed into nirvāṇa, and that is what they will be like.
“Ajita, this is what a noble man or noble woman should know: That noble man or noble woman will be seated at the Bodhimaṇḍa. They will go to the foot of the Bodhi tree in order to attain the enlightenment of buddhahood.
“Ajita, wherever that noble man or noble woman stands, sits, or walks, there should be built a caitya for the Tathāgata. The world and its devas should say, ‘This is a caitya of the Tathāgata.’ ”
This concludes “The Extent of the Merit,” the sixteenth chapter of the Dharma teaching of “The White Lotus of the Good Dharma.”
Translated, revised, and finalized by the Indian Upādhyāya Surendrabodhi and the chief editor Lotsawa Bandé Nanam Yeshé Dé.
Tibetan Editions of the Sūtra
dam chos padma dkar po’i mdo (Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra) [The White Lotus of the Good Dharma]. Toh 113, Degé Kangyur, 103 vols. New Delhi: Karmapae Chodhey Gyalwae Sungrab Patrun Khang, 1976–79, vol. 51 (mdo sde, ja), folios 1a–180b.
———. bka’ ’gyur (dpe bsdur ma) [Comparative Edition of the Kangyur], krung go’i bod rig pa zhib ’jug ste gnas kyi bka’ bstan dpe sdur khang (The Tibetan Tripitaka Collation Bureau of the China Tibetology Research Center). 108 volumes. Beijing: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang (China Tibetology Publishing House), 2006–2009, vol. 51 (mdo sde, ja), pp. 3–427.
———. Choné Kangyur (co ne bka’ ’gyur). 108 vols. Choné: co ne par khang, 1926, vol. 31 (mdo sde, ja), folios 1–212b.
———. Lhasa Kangyur (lha sa bka’ ’gyur). 100 vols. Lhasa: zhol bka’ ’gyur par khang, 1934, vol. 53 (mdo sde, ja), folios 1b–285b.
———. Narthang Kangyur (snar thang bka’ ’gyur). 102 vols. Narthang: snar thang par khang, eighteenth century, vol. 53 (mdo sde, ja), folios 1b–281b.
———. Stok Palace Kangyur (stog pho brang bris ma bka’ ’gyur). 109 vols. Leh: smad rtsis shes rig dpe mdzod, 1975–80. vol. 67 (mdo sde, ma), folios 1a–270b.
———. Urga Kangyur (ur ga bka’ ’gyur). New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1990–94. vol. 51 (mdo sde, ja), folios 1a–180b.
Khangkar, Tsultrim Kelsang (ed.) bod gyur dam pa’i chos padma dkar po zhes bya ba theg pa chen po’i mdo: Tibetan Translation of Saddharmapuṇḍarīka-sūtra. Nyin bod nang rig deb grangs (Japanese and Tibetan Buddhist Culture Series) XI. Kyoto: Tibetan Buddhist Culture Association, 2009.
Sanskrit Editions of the Sūtra
Zhongxin, Jiang. Sanskrit Lotus Sutra Fragments from the Lüshun Museum Collection. Tokyo: Sōka Gakkai, 1997.
Vaidya, P. L. Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra. Darbhanga: The Mithila Institute of Post-Graduate Studies and Research in Sanskrit Learning, 1960.
Watanabe, Shōkō. Saddharmapuṇḍarīka Manuscripts Found in Gilgit. Tokyo: Reiyukai, 1972–75.
Wogihara, Unrai and Tsuchida, Chikao. Saddharmapuṇḍarīka-sūtram: Romanized and Revised Text of the Bibliotheca Buddhica publication by consulting a Sanskrit Ms. & Tibetan and Chinese translations. Tōkyō: Seigo-Kenkyūkai, 1934–35.
Translations of the Sūtra
Borsig, Margareta von. Lotos-Sutra: Das Große Erleuchtungsbuch des Buddhismus. Freiburg: Herder, 2003.
Burnouf, Eugene. Le lotus de la bonne loi. Paris: L’imprimerie Nationale, 1852.
Hurvitz, Leon. Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma. New York: Columbia University Press, 1976.
Katō, Bunnō. “The Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law.” In The Threefold Lotus Sutra, translated by Bunnō Katō, Yoshirō Tamura, and Kōjirō Miyasaka, with revisions by W. E. Soothill, Wilhelm Schiffer, and Pier P. Del Campana, 18–213. New York and Tokyo: Weatherhill and Kosei, 1993.
Kern, H. Saddharma-Puṇḍarīka or the Lotus of the Good Law. Sacred Books of the East XXII. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1884.
Kubo, Tsugunari and Akira Yuyama. The Lotus Sutra. Berkeley: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research (revised second edition), 2007.
Montgomery, Daniel B. The Lotus Sutra: The Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma. Tokyo: Nichiren Shu Headquarters, 1991.
Murano, Senchū. The Lotus Sutra: Sutra of the Lotus of the Wonderful Dharma. Hayward, CA: Nichiren Buddhist International Center, 1974.
Reeves, Gene. The Lotus Sutra: A Contemporary Translation of a Buddhist Classic. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2008.
Soothill, W.E. The Lotus of the Wonderful Law, or The Lotus Gospel. Richmond: Curzon Press, 1987.
Watson, Burton. The Lotus Sutra. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.
Other Kangyur Texts
rgya cher rol pa’i mdo (Lalitavistarasūtra, Toh 95. Degé Kangyur vol. 46 (mdo sde, kha), folios 1b–216b. English translation in Dharmachakra Translation committee (2013).
ting nge ’dzin gyi rgyal po’i mdo (Samādhirājasūtra), Toh 127, Degé Kangyur vol. 55 (mdo sde, da), folios 1a–175b. English translation in Roberts (2018).
de bzhin gshegs pa thams cad kyi gsang ba’i mdo (Tathāgataghuyakasūtra) [The Secret of the Tathāgatas Sūtra]. Toh 443, Degé Kangyur vol. 81 (rgyud, ca), folios 90a–157b.
phal po che’i mdo (Avataṁsakasūtra) [A Multitude of Buddhas Sūtra]. Toh 44, Degé Kangyur vols. 35–38 (phal chen, ka–a), folios ka 1a–nga 363a.
lang kar gshegs pa’i mdo (Laṅkāvatārasūtra) [The Entry into Laṅka Sutra]. Toh 107, Degé Kangyur vol. 49 (mdo sde, ca), folios 56a–191b.
shes rab pha rol tu phyin pa brgyad stong pa (Aṣṭasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitā) [The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Verses]. Toh 12, Degé Kangyur vol. 33 (brgyad stong pa, ka), folios 1b–286a.
sa bcu pa’i mdo (Daśabhūmikasūtra) [The Sūtra of the Ten Bhūmis]. Chapter 31, in Toh 44, Degé Kangyur vol. 36 (phal chen, kha), folios 166a–283a. English translation in Roberts (2021).
gser ’od dam pa’i mdo (Suvarṇaprabhāsūtra) [The Golden Light Sūtra]. Toh 556, Degé Kangyur vol. 89 (rgyud, pa), folios 151b–273a.
Abhayākaragupta. thub pa’i dgongs pa’i rgyan (Munimatālaṁkāra). Toh 3903, Degé Tengyur vol. 210 (dbu ma, a), folios 73b–293a.
Asaṅga. theg pa chen po rgyud bla ma’i bstan bcos rnam par bshad pa (Mahāyānottaratantraśāstravyākhyā). Toh 4025, Degé Tengyur vol. 225 (sems tsam, phi), folios 74b–129a.
Candrakīrti. dbu ma la ’jug pa’i bshad pa (Madhyamakāvatārabhāṣya). Toh 3862, Degé Tengyur vol. 204 (dbu ma, ’a), folios 220b–348a.
———. byang chub sems dpa’i rnal ’byor spyod pa bzhi brgya pa’i ’grel pa (Bodhisattvayogacaryācatuḥśatakaṭīkā) Toh 3865, Degé Tengyur vol. 205 (dbu ma, ya), folios 30b–239a.
Daṃṣṭrāsena, Vasubandhu, or neither. shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa ’bum pa dang nyi khri lnga stong pa dang khri brgyad stong pa’i rgya cher bshad pa (Śatasāhasrikāpañcaviṁśatisāhasrikaṣṭādaśasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitābṛhaṭṭīkā). Toh 3808, Degé Tengyur vol. 93 (sher phyin, pha), folios 1a–292b. English translation in Sparham (2022).
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Kamalaśīla. shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa bdun brgya pa rgya cher bshad pa (Saptaśatikāprajñāpāramitāṭīkā). Toh 3815, Degé Tengyur vol. 95 (sher phyin, ma), folios 89a–178a.
Maitreya-Asaṅga. theg pa chen po rgyud bla ma’i bstan bcos (Mahāyānottaratantraśāstra) [A Mahāyāna Treatise on the Supreme Continuum]. Toh 4024, Degé Tengyur vol. 225 (sems tsam, phi), folios 54b–73a.
Nāgārjuna. mdo kun las btus pa (Sūtrasamuccaya). Toh 3934, Degé Tengyur vol. 212 (dbu ma, ki), folios 148b–215a.
Saitsalak (sa’i rtsa lag, Kuiji, Pṛthivībandhu). dam pa’i chos padma dkar po’i ’grel pa. Toh 4017, Degé Tengyur, vol. 120 (mdo ’grel, di), folios 175b–302a.
———. dam pa’i chos padma dkar po’i ’grel pa. bstan ’gyur (dpe bsdur ma) [Comparative Edition of the Tengyur], krung go’i bod rig pa zhib ’jug ste gnas kyi bka’ bstan dpe sdur khang (The Tibetan Tripitaka Collation Bureau of the China Tibetology Research Center). 120 volumes. Beijing: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang (China Tibetology Publishing House), 1994–2008, vol. 69 (mdo sde, di, vol. 135), pp. 476–826.
Śāntideva. bslab pa kun las btus pa (Śikṣāsamuccaya). Toh 3940, Degé Tengyur vol. 111 (dbu ma, khi), folios 3a–194b.
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Wantsik (wan tshig, Yuan Tso). dgongs pa zab mo nges par ’grel pa (Gambhīrasaṁdhinirmocanasūtraṭīkā). Toh 4016, Degé Tengyur vols. 220–22 (mdo ’grel, ti–ti), folios ti 1a–di 175a.
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