The White Lotus of the Good Dharma
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
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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 White Lotus of the Good Dharma, popularly known as the Lotus Sūtra, not only contains one of the fullest expressions of the transcendent nature of the Buddha, but also, through its successive descriptions of astonishing events and its vivid parables, is imbued with a distinctive literary power of its own. The sūtra inspired a devoted following in India, but it is above all in east Asia that it has been particularly popular. There it has been the impetus for a range of exquisite artistic and architectural forms, and indeed, whole traditions of study and practice that thrive to this day. An extensive body of literature, too—both scholarly and popular—is based upon the sūtra.1
The Lotus Sūtra in India
This sūtra’s references to South Indian musical instruments, and the case endings that are preserved in the language of its verses, are possible indications of a southwest Indian provenance, in common with some other Mahāyāna sūtras. When this sūtra appeared, the Mahāsāṃghika tradition—in which, it has been argued, Mahāyāna sūtras first made their appearance2—was prevalent in the northwest and southwest of India.3 The language of the earliest surviving examples of the sūtra, such as those in the Lüshun Museum (which date to the fifth or sixth century ᴄᴇ and come from Khotan),4 has specific characteristics that are found elsewhere only in the Mahāvastu and other texts belonging to the Mahāsāṃghika-Lokottaravādin sub-school of the Mahāsāṃghika tradition.5 This was the first textual tradition to emphasize the transcendent nature of the Buddha, a theme particularly present in the Lotus Sūtra. The original language of the sūtra was a form of Middle Indic, but the prose passages in particular were subsequently Sanskritized, resulting in what is called Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit (BHS). BHS contains words that are either not found in Classical Sanskrit, or have a different meaning. In this sūtra, some words are closer in meaning to their counterparts in Pali (which is itself a slightly Sanskritized Middle Indic) than to the same words in Classical Sanskrit. Also, different versions of this sūtra show instances of how the same Middle Indic word was rendered differently in BHS. Seishi Karashima has pointed out, for example, that the Middle Indic ajja was interpreted as adya (“today”) in the surviving central Asian manuscript fragments, while the Nepalese manuscripts have ārya. Although both adya and ārya could be correct, according to context, Karashima states that in this particular case in the Lotus Sūtra, adya would have been the correct choice.6
Buddhist Studies scholars have generally concluded that the Lotus Sūtra was originally composed of chapters 2–9 only, and at first, as with other sūtras, consisted of just the verses.7 There is certainly a change in the nature of the sūtra from the tenth chapter onward. Later chapters reflect the negative reaction to the promulgation of the original sūtra, containing admonitions to endure persecution, providing blessings for protection from persecution, and describing the evil fate that awaits the sūtra’s critics and persecutors. Thus, there seems to have been a gradual accretion in the size of the sūtra over time, as the result not only of additional chapters being added, but also of the existing chapters being expanded by the insertion of additional passages, as can be seen by comparing the Chinese translations to the Tibetan. Perhaps the last passage added to a Sanskrit version was the one describing the teaching that emanates from Buddha Prabhūtaratna’s floating stūpa, as it is found neither in any surviving Sanskrit manuscript, nor in the Chinese.
Of particular note is the passage in chapter 11 that deals with Devadatta, Buddha Śākyamuni’s cousin. Elsewhere in the Buddhist tradition he is portrayed as a villain who divided the saṅgha by becoming a rival teacher, attempted to assassinate the Buddha, and eventually fell into hell when the earth opened up beneath his feet. Even in the Jātaka stories, a character that plays a villainous role is usually declared to have been a previous life of Devadatta. However, the Lotus Sūtra differs markedly in regard to its portrayal of Devadatta: Śākyamuni describes Devadatta as being his teacher in a past life and also prophesies his buddhahood. The Buddhist tradition of Devadatta continued in India for at least a millennium, is mentioned in Pali texts as late as the fifth century, and is described by Chinese pilgrims to India, including Xuanzang (c. 602–64), who recorded three seventh century Devadatta Buddhist monasteries in Bengal.8 This passage may therefore be the result of a more harmonious coexistence of the two traditions at a certain time and place. Even though the Devadatta passage was included in the text that Dharmarakṣa translated into Chinese in 286 ᴄᴇ, it was absent in the text translated by Kumārajīva in 406 ᴄᴇ.
The Lotus Sūtra introduced themes, ideas, and views that have had a great influence on the Buddhist tradition, such as the doctrine that there is only one single yāna, or “vehicle,” that is the way to buddhahood; the distinction between teachings that are expedient and those that are definite; the notion that the Buddha’s life was simply a manifestation by one who had attained buddhahood an incalculably long time ago; and the idea that the Buddha’s passing into the quiescence of nirvāṇa was also an illusory manifestation, and that instead he continues to teach eternally.
Paramārtha (499–569 ᴄᴇ), an Indian monk who migrated to China, declared that fifty commentaries had been written specifically on the Lotus Sūtra in India, although only one such text still exists, and that only in Chinese.9 It is attributed to Vasubandhu (fourth to fifth century ᴄᴇ), and asserts the supremacy of the Lotus Sūtra over all others.10 Some argue that the attribution is spurious, since there is no surviving Sanskrit or Tibetan manuscript.11
Within more general commentaries, however, there are many references to the sūtra to be found. Over thirty texts in the Tengyur, predominantly of the Madhyamaka tradition, cite it. Possibly the earliest such reference is in the Sūtrasamuccaya (A Compendium from the Sūtras), which is simply an anthology of extracts from sixty-eight Mahāyāna sūtras and was attributed to Nāgārjuna (second to third century ᴄᴇ) by both Candrakīrti and Śāntideva in the seventh century. The sūtra is cited three times on the subject of faith.12
Another early reference to the sūtra in a commentary is made in the fourth century Mahāyāna Treatise on the Supreme Continuum, attributed in the Tibetan tradition to Maitreya-Asaṅga. The treatise mentions the Lotus Sūtra “and other scriptures” as describing the skillful method of giving Dharma teachings that counter attachment to the self, for the purpose of ripening beings for the Mahāyāna.13 The commentary to this text, attributed to Asaṅga, repeats this assertion.14 Vasubandhu, traditionally identified as Asaṅga’s younger brother, refers to the single yāna teaching of the Lotus Sūtra in his commentary on The Mahāyāna Compendium.15
In the seventh century, Candrakīrti (c. 600–650 ᴄᴇ) described nirvāṇa to be like the Lotus Sūtra’s parable of the illusory town created for merchants.16 He also quoted the sūtra twice in describing how śrāvakas can eventually attain buddhahood.17
In the eighth century, Śāntideva cited such passages in the sūtra as the verses on the merit of building stūpas, (chapter 2, verses 80–82) and the verse on solitary contemplation on the nature of phenomena (chapter 13, verse 24).18
Kamalaśīla (fl. 740–95 ᴄᴇ), who died in Tibet, refers to the Lotus Sūtra’s statement that there is actually only one yāna, i.e., one ultimate goal for the Buddhist path.19
Dharmamitra (c. 800 ᴄᴇ), in his commentary to Maitreya-Asaṅga’s Adornment of Realization, refers to the Lotus Sūtra three times. He states that Dharma teachings can be given in an instant, as in chapter 14 of the Lotus Sūtra in which, while the bodhisattvas who emerged from under the earth make offerings for twenty-five eons, that timespan seems to the beings in our world to be just one afternoon.20 He also quotes from chapter 13, on how a buddha “does not request anything from his followers,” and he states that a buddha teaches out of compassion with no desire for material gain.21 Finally, he refers to the sūtra when stating that the Buddha in actuality taught only one yāna.22
Jānavajra (the Sanskrit equivalent of his name would be Jñānavajra), whose dates are unknown, appears to be from a later century and to have lived in Kashmir. He refers to the Lotus Sūtra four times in his commentary on The Sūtra of the Entry into Laṅka.23 Another reference to the sūtra in a pre–ninth-century text is found in a commentary on the hundred-thousand, twenty-five-thousand, and eighteen-thousand verse Perfection of Wisdom Sūtras attributed variously to Daṃṣṭrāsena of Kashmir, to Vasubandhu, or to neither. The commentary, while describing the state of an arhat, quotes at length from the Buddha’s prophecy of Śāriputra’s eventual buddhahood.24
References to the sūtra in commentarial works continued until the time of Abhayākaragupta (d. 1125), the last of the great masters of Indian Buddhism, who refers to it in explaining that there is only a single yāna and that the nirvāṇa taught in the lower yānas is merely a provisional teaching.25
There is also a commentary specifically on the Lotus Sūtra that was translated into Tibetan from Chinese. It lacks a Sanskrit title and a translator’s colophon, but its authorship is attributed to a certain Saitsalak (sa’i rtsa lag, a name which has been reconstructed in Sanskrit as Pṛthivībandhu).26 Even though the colophon states that the author is from Sri Lanka, the text is structured into enumerated sections and subsections in a way unknown in the Indian tradition of commentaries, but which was the modus operandi of Chinese and Tibetan commentaries. It transpires that this is in fact an incomplete translation, going no further than chapter 11, of a commentary written in Chinese by Kuiji (632–82), a prominent student of the famous Xuanzang.27 The Denkarma (ldan kar ma or lhan kar ma), a Tibetan catalog compiled in the ninth century, lists this commentary as being one of only eight that were translations from the Chinese.28 The only other commentary in Tibetan translation that cites the Lotus Sūtra numerous times—thirty-three to be exact—and also quotes from a commentary on the sūtra, is also a translation from the Chinese.29
The apparent absence of an Indian commentary specifically dedicated to the Lotus Sūtra does not necessarily tell us much about its importance or otherwise among Indian Buddhists. Much of the history of Indian Buddhism has vanished along with its libraries, but there is a fortunate exception. Gilgit is located in what is now northwest Pakistan, a region where Islam prevails, but in 1931 some local people accidentally discovered a buried two-story tower (which has often been referred to mistakenly as a stūpa) that had served a Buddhist community in the past and contained a library of Buddhist manuscripts. After its discovery, the local populace used much of the collection for firewood and building materials, but what precious contents remained were preserved following an official excavation in 1938. In particular, the research work of Oskar von Hinüber30 on the library’s contents and on the rock inscriptions found in Gilgit has revealed a Palola dynasty of the seventh to the eighth century that was devoted to Buddhism. The royal family and others among the lay population were evidently devoted to the Lotus Sūtra and sponsored the creation of copies preserved in the ancient library. Ironically the dynasty came to an end when it was conquered by Tibet in 737 ᴄᴇ, and the Buddhist sculptures sponsored by the royal family were taken to Tibet. This was during the reign of King Tride Tsuktsen (704–54), who was the father of Trisong Detsen (743–797/804), under whom the work of translating the entire teachings of the Buddha would begin.
In addition to these sixth to eighth century texts found in Gilgit, there are manuscripts from Khotan, discovered in the nineteenth century, that have often been referred to erroneously as Kashgar manuscripts.31 Their dates vary from the sixth to possibly the eleventh century, but linguistically they preserve a more ancient form of the sūtra, and some do not contain the Devadatta section—as was the case with Kumārajīva’s source. Their colophons again reveal a strong lay tradition of sponsoring copies of the Lotus Sūtra to bring merit to both the living and the deceased.
Nepalese Buddhism represents a continuous survival of the Sanskrit tradition of Buddhism and has preserved over thirty palm-leaf manuscripts of Sanskrit versions of the Lotus Sūtra that date back to the eleventh century. In Nepal, as in Tibet, the sūtras were surpassed in importance by the tantras, but even so the Lotus Sūtra is counted as one of the Nine Dharmas (navadharma) of Nepalese Buddhism, which are traditionally recited and honored with offerings.32
The Sūtra in China and Beyond
The Lotus Sūtra is said to have been first translated into Chinese in 255 ᴄᴇ in a translation that was lost.33 The first surviving translation into Chinese (T. 263) was made in 286 ᴄᴇ over a three-week period, beginning on September 15 and concluding on October 6 in Chang’an, then the capital of China.34 The translator was Dharmarakṣa (c. 233–310), originally from Dunhuang.35 However, his translation was not very easy to read and, like two lost translations apparently made in 290 and 335, it was eventually overshadowed by the far more readable version (T. 262) by Kumārajīva (334–413).36 It is this translation of the Lotus Sūtra, completed in 406, that made it accessible, popular, and influential.37 Kumārajīva and his translation team must have either translated freely from the Indian text, or were translating from an earlier version of the sūtra. It is recorded that the translation avoided simply rendering the Sanskrit text literally into the Chinese language, and the work involved lively discussions within his team.38 The Taishō canon also includes another early translation (T. 265), dated to 265–317, whose translator remains unknown.
Kumārajīva’s version did not translate the verses, and the Devadatta section is noticeable by its absence, even though it had been in Dharmarakṣa’s version. The Devadatta chapter was included eighty years later, after Dharmamati (late fifth century) had translated a Sanskrit version of the story retrieved from Turfan by the monk Faxian (423–97).39
Both the verses and the Devadatta chapter were translated in 601–02 in the version (T. 264) made by Jñānagupta (523–600), in collaboration with Dharmagupta.40 Jñānagupta and Dharmagupta basically produced a revision of the Kumārajīva version. However, chapter 5 in their translation (as in the Tibetan and present Sanskrit) follows the parable of the herbs with other parables, such as that of sunlight and moonlight, and the blind man cured by herbs, which were absent from Kumārajīva’s version. Similarly, the last part of chapter 25 also first appeared in the 601–02 translation. Later editions of Kumārajīva’s translation have added the Devadatta chapter, the verses originally absent from Kumārajīva’s version, and the concluding part of chapter 25.
The first Chinese commentary written specifically on the sūtra was by Daosheng (c. 360?–434) who studied under Kumārajīva in Chang’an, assisted in his translation of the Lotus Sūtra, and is listed as one of Kumārajīva’s fifteen principal students. He argued that the sūtra’s central teaching is that there is ultimately only one vehicle to buddhahood.41
The first works to emphasize the superiority of the Lotus Sūtra above all other sūtras are by Zhiyi (Chih-i 538–97), who lived on Tiantai Mountain. This marks the real beginning of the Tiantai school, which was based on the Lotus Sūtra, and became one of the major schools of Chinese Buddhism.42 The popularity of the sūtra is evident in the Dunhuang caves, which were sealed in the eleventh century. In addition to a thousand copies of the sūtra, murals portraying scenes from the sūtra, such as the floating stūpa and the burning house, are found in seventy-five of the caves.43
The sūtra spread from China into other Asian countries, and Kumārajīva’s version was translated into a number of Asian languages. The Tiantai school was taken to Japan, where it is called the Tendai school, by Saichō (767–822), who returned from China in 805 and built a temple on Mount Hiei.44 It grew into Japan’s main Buddhist tradition and subsequently divided into sub-schools.45
Nichiren (1222–82), who had studied in the Tendai tradition, established his own school of thought and practice. In 1253, he set out to proclaim the supremacy of the Lotus Sūtra and began teaching the recitation of “Homage to the White Lotus of the Good Dharma Sūtra,” which is a homage to the title of the Lotus Sūtra as translated by Kumārajīva: Namu myōhō renge kyō.46 Namu is the equivalent of the Sanskrit namaḥ (“homage”) and Myōhō renge kyō is the Japanese rendering of the Chinese title of the sūtra, Miao fa lian hua jing (妙法蓮華經). Nichiren espoused the sūtra as important for the welfare of the state, and his combative approach led to his being exiled for two periods, and almost brought about his execution.47 Nevertheless, many Nichiren traditions developed over the ensuing centuries, all practicing the recitation of homage to the title of the sūtra. Some of these schools have been intolerant of other traditions, and were sometimes nationalistic and even violent. As a result, certain followers of Nichiren, too, suffered exile, imprisonment, torture, and even execution.48 The best-known Nichiren traditions in the present day are Nichiren Shōshū and Sōka Gakkai, which broke away from Nichiren Shōshū in 1991. Nichiren Shōshū holds the view that Nichiren himself was the Buddha.49 Sōka Gakkai is a lay organization founded in 1930 as a part of Nichiren Shōshū. Although its founders were imprisoned in 1943, a subsequent program of vigorous proselytization has led to a huge following around the world.50 The head of Nichiren Shōshū excommunicated the entire Sōka Gakkai organization in 1991.51
In addition to these traditions based upon the Lotus Sūtra, there is also an extensive scholastic tradition of studying the Lotus Sūtra in Japan.
The Sūtra in Tibet
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.
Translations into Western Languages
The history of the Lotus Sūtra in the West begins with Brian Houghton Hodgson (1801–94), the British Resident in Kathmandu who acquired and sent Tibetan and Sanskrit texts to Europe. In particular, in 1837 he sent three nineteenth-century Sanskrit manuscripts to Paris.52 Eugène Burnouf (1801–52) made an excellent and elegant translation into French of the sūtra—Le lotus de la bonne loi—with copious notes, which was not published in its entirety until after his death.53
The first complete translation of the Lotus Sūtra into English was that of Jan Hendrik Kern (1833–1917) in 1884.54 He translated it from the Sanskrit as The Saddharmapuṇḍarīka, or The Lotus of the True Law. Most translations into European languages, however, have been from Kumārajīva’s Chinese translation, beginning with Carlo Puini’s Italian translation in 1873.55
A number of more recent English translations have been made from Kumārajīva’s Chinese, such as those by Senchū Murano in 1974, Bunnō Katō in 1975, Leon Hurvitz in 1976, Daniel Montgomery in 1991, Tsugunari Kubo and Akira Yuyama in 1993 (with a revised edition in 2007), Burton Watson in 1993, and Gene Reeves in 2008.
This translation is based on the version found in the Degé Kangyur, particularly the Comparative Edition (dpe bsdur ma) of the Degé (2006–09), which is annotated with the variant readings of several other Kangyurs. Also consulted were the Stok Palace manuscript Kangyur, an important Thempangma-recension Kangyur whose variant readings are not recorded in the Comparative Edition, as well as the available Sanskrit editions, particularly that of Vaidya, and the Chinese translations, particularly that of Jñānagupta and Dharmagupta.
While the Tibetan and Sanskrit versions are quite similar, the available translations in English (made from the Chinese) can differ considerably from them, and from one another. This translation into English is primarily intended to represent the Tibetan translation, but when the Tibetan is clearly at fault—to the extent that it disrupts the integrity of the text or narrative, whether that be through textual corruption or seemingly imperfect translation—we have corrected it with reference to the Sanskrit, and have given the Tibetan version in an accompanying endnote. If the Tibetan is perfectly cogent, we have followed it in this translation, even if it is in disagreement with the Sanskrit and Chinese. The Sanskrit and Chinese versions are provided in the endnotes. “The Sanskrit” in notes refers to Vaidya’s edition unless otherwise indicated. “The Chinese” refers to the translation of Jñānagupta and Dharmagupta unless otherwise noted.
Translation of the Title
There are two translations of the title from the Sanskrit and a number of translations from the Chinese versions of the sūtra. In the Sanskrit title, the qualifying adjective sat becomes sad in saddharma. Sat, or dam pa in Tibetan, has been translated in various ways. Generally, saddharma (or dam pa’i chos in Tibetan) is translated simply as Dharma with a capital D, but in the context of this famous title, the qualifying adjective for “Dharma” needs to make its presence felt.
According to the Mahāvyutpatti dictionary, the Tibetan word dam pa translates not only sat but also bhadra (“good”), uttama (“supreme”), and bāḍha (“mighty”). The term dam pa could be translated into English in many ways, such as “excellent,” “sublime,” “holy,” or “sacred,” while the Sanskrit sat primarily means “good” or “true.” In this translation we follow Burnouf and Kern, who translated directly from the Sanskrit, in choosing the plain “good Dharma.”
Translation of Specific Terms
Regarding the translation of pronouns, in Tibetan there is often no distinction between masculine or feminine, or even between singular and plural, but the Sanskrit of the sūtra frequently uses the masculine singular. Since this Sanskrit usage of the masculine singular can usually be interpreted as a general category that includes both sexes and refers to both male and female devotees, we have chosen to render such pronouns as the more gender inclusive “they” whenever the context allows it. However, in passages that very clearly refer specifically to males, we have allowed context to override gender inclusivity and have rendered the pronouns accordingly as the masculine singular “he.”
The epithet devaputra literally means “son of a deva,” but it is simply an elegant way of saying that someone is a deva, and a literal translation appears rather awkward. Similarly, “son of a merchant” can, according to context, just mean “merchant.” Also the epithets “son of a [noble] family” and “daughter of a [noble] family” refer to a noble person and are simply polite forms of address, akin to the English “ladies and gentlemen,” and so they have not been translated literally as “sons” or “daughters.”
’jig rten gyi khams (lokadhātu) can mean not simply the one world we live in, but a thousand million worlds that are presided over by one Brahmā and are the field of activity of a single buddha (which is why the term buddha realm may include this great number of worlds). However, it is sometimes uncertain whether lokadhātu is referring simply to one world, as in early Buddhism, or to a group of many such worlds. The terms universe and cosmos are too comprehensive for such a set of worlds, as a number of these sets are said to coexist. Galaxy has been used in some translations and is analogous, but seems too modern a term with an overly specific meaning for this translation. We have therefore used “world realm” because it is a literal translation of lokadhātu and ’jig rten gyi khams, and could be understood to mean both a single world or a thousand million worlds.
Detailed Summary of “The White Lotus of the Good Dharma”
Chapter 1: The Introduction
The Buddha is on Vulture Peak with a great assembly when he emits a ray of light from his ūrṇā hair that illuminates eighteen thousand buddha realms in the east, making all the beings there visible to the assembly. Maitreya asks Mañjuśrī what this meant. Mañjuśrī states that it is an omen that the Buddha is going to teach The White Lotus of the Good Dharma. Mañjuśrī knows this because he had seen the same thing occur in a previous eon when he was Śrīgarbha, also known as Varaprabha, the senior student of Buddha Candrasūryapradīpa. And at that time Maitreya was Śrīgarbha’s student, a lazy bodhisattva named Yaśaskāma.
Chapter 2: Skill in Methods
The Buddha comes out of his meditation and tells Śāriputra of how the buddhas possess skill in methods for liberating beings, and their wisdom is inconceivable to śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas. Śāriputra requests the Buddha three times to explain what he means. Five thousand bhikṣus leave the assembly, not wishing to hear the teaching. The Buddha states that there is only one yāna, which is the way to buddhahood, and the division into three yānas is merely a skillful method used by the buddhas. He warns that in the future, śrāvakas will not preserve this sūtra. He describes the benefits for those who will have devotion for it, and he also states that those who make even the simplest offerings to the buddhas will eventually attain enlightenment as a result. The Buddha describes his enlightenment, his previous teachings on attaining nirvāṇa, and how the time came to begin teaching the attainment of buddhahood. He also states that those who reject this sūtra will be reborn in hell.
Chapter 3: The Parable
Śāriputra states that he was sad not to have previously received the teachings given to the bodhisattvas, but is now happy because he has received them. The Buddha explains that in previous lives Śāriputra had received this teaching, and he prophesies that in a future eon Śāriputra will become Buddha Padmaprabha in a pure realm called Virajā. Śāriputra states that there are those in the assembly who are confused as to why there is a new teaching. He asks the Buddha to explain. The Buddha says he will do so through a parable. He describes a vast decrepit house, full of dangerous monsters and creatures, that catches fire. The owner sees that his sons are playing inside. They are so engrossed in their play that they do not heed their father’s warning. He then promises them ox-carts, goat-carts, and deer-carts, which fulfills their various longings. They all rush outside, thus escaping from the house. The father then gives them all magnificent ox-carts. The Buddha says that the father employed a skillful method so as to save them, and in the end they all got the best kind of cart. Therefore the father could not be called a liar. The word for cart in Sanskrit is yāna, and the cart they are all eventually given is a “great cart,” in other words, the Mahāyāna. This establishes that the Buddha uses the skillful method of giving various teachings so as to liberate beings from saṃsāra, but eventually he gives them all the supreme teaching of omniscient wisdom, the one true yāna, which is the Mahāyāna.
Chapter 4: The Aspiration
The principal elder monks, such as Mahākāśyapa, state that they are astonished to hear this new teaching. They had never previously had the intention to become buddhas, but only to attain nirvāṇa. They then relate the parable of a man whose son wandered away, becoming a beggar for fifty years. The father, meanwhile, searching for the son, comes to another city where he becomes incredibly wealthy. The son one day arrives at the father’s house and, intimidated by his wealth and importance, flees. The father, recognizing him, sends people to bring him back, but the son panics. Therefore the father uses a ruse: he sends some low-class people to offer him the job of clearing away the rubbish and waste of the house. The son lives in a straw hut beside the house and does that work. Gradually, over twenty years, the father has the son working inside his home and taking care of all his wealth, although he still lives in poverty in his straw hut. When he sees that his son is ready, he holds a great meeting, announces the identity of his son, and bestows all his wealth on him; the son is overjoyed. The elders state that they were like this son, who knew of the teaching practiced by the bodhisattvas for attaining buddhahood, and even taught it to them, but they themselves did not have the confidence for such a great goal. However, on this day they are overjoyed to hear from the Buddha that they also are able to attain buddhahood.
Chapter 5: Herbs
The Buddha relates to Mahākāśyapa the parable of how the rain falls equally on all plants, from the smallest herbs to the greatest trees, nourishing them all in accordance with their needs, and in this way he teaches the Dharma to beings on different levels according to their needs, and does not give them all the teaching on the attainment of omniscience. He teaches another parable on how the light of the sun and the moon shines equally on all, and, in the same way, the light of the Buddha’s wisdom shines on all, whatever their aspirations. This light gives them the exact teaching they aspire to, and that is why there are the teachings of the three yānas. He also teaches the parable of how a potter makes pots from the same clay, but they are used to contain different substances and therefore given different designations. In the same way, there is but one yāna, the Buddhayāna, but because of the differences among beings, there are the designations of śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas. The Buddha also teaches the parable of a man who, because he is blind from birth, does not believe there is a sun, moon, or anything to be seen. A compassionate physician obtains herbs from the Himalayas and cures him. Realizing he was previously ignorant, the man thinks he can now see everything, but clairvoyant rishis make him realize his sight is still limited. He practices in solitude and gains higher knowledge. In that way beings are blinded by ignorance, but the Buddha teaches them so that they are freed from saṃsāra. They believe they have attained the ultimate goal of nirvāṇa, but the Buddha explains that there is still the omniscience of buddhas to be attained.
The Buddha prophesies how Mahākāśyapa will, in a future time, after being a student of millions of buddhas, become a buddha named Raśmiprabhāsa in a pure realm called Avabhāsaprāptā. The Buddha describes the length of his lifespan and the subsequent duration of his teachings. Mahāmaudgalyāyana, Subhūti, and Mahākātyāyana pray in their minds for prophecies, which the Buddha subsequently gives for each of them. Subhūti will become Buddha Śaśiketu in the pure realm Ratnasaṃbhava. Mahākātyāyana will become Buddha Jāmbūnadaprabhāsa in an unnamed pure realm. Mahāmaudgalyāyana will become Buddha Tamālapatracandanagandha in the pure realm Ratiprapūrṇa.
Chapter 7: The Past
The Buddha tells of a time in the distant past when Buddha Mahābhijñājñānābhibhū spent ten intermediate eons under the Bodhi tree to attain enlightenment. His sixteen sons came to supplicate him for teachings, as did brahmās from quintillions of world realms in every direction. He gave the teachings of the four truths of the āryas and of dependent origination, and his saṅgha became innumerable. At a request from his sixteen sons for the highest Dharma, he taught The White Lotus of the Good Dharma for a hundred thousand eons. Then he entered solitude and each of the sixteen sons taught the sūtra to quintillions of beings. The Buddha states that the sixteen sons have become sixteen buddhas, one of whom is himself, and his students from that distant time are again his students in the present. He then gives the parable of a guide leading a great number of beings through a vast jungle on the way to an island of jewels. When they become exhausted and wish to turn back he magically creates a city for them to rest in. When they are rested he tells them the city was an illusion and that they should continue their journey. Similarly, the Buddha has taught the yānas and nirvāṇas of the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas to beings so that they may rest on their journey to buddhahood, whereas there is truly only one nirvāṇa and yāna, that of buddhahood.
The Buddha declares Pūrṇa Maitrāyaṇīputra to be the supreme teacher of the Dharma from among his saṅgha, and that he was also the principal teacher for the six previous buddhas and will be for the remaining ninety-six buddhas of this eon. He says that in the distant future he will be Buddha Dharmaprabhāsa in this world, which at that time will have become a miraculous pure realm. The twelve hundred arhats present wish in their minds to also receive prophecies. Knowing this, the Buddha gives them. First he says that Kauṇḍinya will become a buddha named Samantaprabhāsa, and five hundred of the arhats will follow him as successive buddhas all named Samantaprabhāsa. Without any detail he states that it will be the same for the others. The five hundred arhats confess their previous ignorance and describe it through the parable of a man whose friend had sewn a jewel in his clothes, but who later, unaware of that jewel, was living as a destitute beggar concerned only with finding food, until his friend found him and showed the jewel. They say they had in this way been ignorant of the Buddha’s higher teachings and had been concerned only with attaining nirvāṇa, which they now realize is not the true nirvāṇa. Now, however, they have understood this and are overjoyed to receive his prophecy of their eventual buddhahood.
Ānanda, Rāhula, and two thousand bhikṣus make the aspiration to receive a prophecy from the Buddha. First the Buddha prophesies that Ānanda, after serving quintillions of buddhas, will become Buddha Sāgaravaradharabuddhivikrīḍitābhijña. New bodhisattvas wonder why a śrāvaka should receive such a prophecy instead of a bodhisattva. The Buddha explains that he and Ānanda began their spiritual journey together, but because Ānanda focused on receiving teachings rather than practice, he has been the principal keeper of the Dharma for quintillions of buddhas. Then the Buddha prophesies that Rāhula, who is his own son, will become Buddha Saptaratnapadmavikrāntagāmin, and until that time he will be the son of every buddha, lastly that of Ānanda as the Buddha Sāgaravaradharabuddhivikrīḍitābhijña. The Buddha then prophesies that the two thousand bhikṣus will all simultaneously in different realms become buddhas, all named Ratnaketurāja, who will have identical realms and lifespans.
Chapter 10: The Dharmabhāṇakas
The Buddha addresses principally the bodhisattva Bhaiṣajyarāja and tells him that all in the assembly are bodhisattvas, and whoever even hears one line of verse from the sūtra will attain buddhahood. He says that those who transmit this sūtra should be honored as if they were buddhas and that stūpas should be built wherever the sūtra is taught, recited, or written. Speaking badly of such a dharmabhāṇaka would be worse than insulting the Buddha to his face for an eon. He says that a bodhisattva who does not know this sūtra is far from buddhahood, like a man digging a well and encountering only dry earth, while a bodhisattva who knows the sūtra is close to buddhahood, like a well-digger encountering wet earth, which is a sign of the proximity of water. The Buddha states that in the future, when someone teaches this sūtra, he will send emanations to the assembly that listens to it. If someone recites it in solitude in a forest he will emanate nonhuman beings to listen to that person. In the concluding verses he says his emanations will protect a teacher of this sūtra from physical attacks and abuse, and he will manifest before those reciting the sūtra in solitude and will check and correct their recitation.
A gigantic stūpa rises into the sky from the midst of the assembly. A voice commends the Buddha for teaching this sūtra. The Buddha explains to the bodhisattva Mahāpratibhāna that this is the stūpa of Buddha Prabhūtaratna, who attained enlightenment through this sūtra. Buddha Prabhūtaratna had prayed to appear within his own stūpa wherever the sūtra was taught. He also prayed that any buddhas teaching it would bring all their emanations from other realms to that world to listen, and he also prayed that his stūpa would be opened by those buddhas. Buddha Śākyamuni then draws his quintillions of emanations as other buddhas into his world realm, which is transformed into a pure realm. Those buddhas all send attendants to Śākyamuni requesting the opening of the stūpa. Śākyamuni levitates and opens it, revealing Buddha Prabhūtaratna inside. He sits next to him, and describes the uniquely incalculable merit of teaching the sūtra. The Buddha then describes his previous life as a king dedicated to the Dharma who became a rishi’s slave in order to hear this sūtra. As a result of that he has now attained the qualities of a buddha. He states that the rishi was a previous life of Devadatta, who in the future will be the buddha Devarāja. The bodhisattva Prajñākūṭa, who is from Buddha Prabhūtaratna’s realm, requests that Prabhūtaratna come back to his realm. The Buddha asks Prajñākūṭa to stay for a while and talk with Mañjuśrī. Mañjuśrī miraculously comes from the palace of the nāga king Sāgara, which is in the ocean, and manifests for Prajñākūṭa the vast number of bodhisattvas he has guided toward enlightenment in the ocean. He also describes the great qualities of the nāga king’s daughter and states that she can attain buddhahood. When Prajñākūṭa finds that hard to believe, the nāga princess appears. Śāriputra says to her that a woman cannot attain buddhahood, regardless of her qualities. The nāga princess then offers a jewel as valuable as the world realm to the Buddha and states that she can attain buddhahood faster than making that offering. She transforms into a male bodhisattva and goes to a southern realm and becomes a buddha. Everyone in this world realm is able to see that buddha teaching in that realm.
Chapter 12: Resolutions
The bodhisattvas Bhaiṣajyarāja, Mahāpratibhāna, and two hundred thousand others reassure the Buddha that they will teach the sūtra in the future. The bhikṣus also state they will teach it in other world realms. The Buddha tells his aunt Mahāprajāpatī that in the distant future she will become Buddha Sarvasattvapriyadarśana, that her following of six thousand bhikṣuṇīs will be her students, and that she will prophesy their buddhahood. Similarly, the Buddha tells Yaśodharā, who had been his wife, that she will become Buddha Raśmiśatasahasraparipūrṇadhvaja. Then eighty-thousand bodhisattvas declare that they will teach the Dharma in the later times, enduring all persecution and rejection.
Chapter 13: Dwelling in Happiness
Mañjuśrī asks the Buddha how bodhisattvas should teach the sūtra in the future. The Buddha says they should have four qualities: (1) In terms of practice they should have self-control and see correctly the characteristics of phenomena; in terms of their field of activity they should stay apart from society and worldly life, and in particular avoid attraction to women. (2) They should see the emptiness of phenomena. (3) They should also remain in a state of happiness and never criticize others; they should not discourage people, by saying that they are unable to attain enlightenment. (4) They should remain far from others but have compassion for them, and wish to attain buddhahood so as to liberate them. The Buddha then prophesies that such bodhisattvas will be greatly revered by humans and devas. The Buddha gives the parable of a king rewarding heroic warriors with all kinds of gifts, and finally giving his crest jewel. The Buddha explains that in the same way he has taught many sūtras to those battling Māra, but his final marvelous gift is this sūtra, his final teaching that he has kept secret until this moment.
Chapter 14: The Bodhisattvas Emerging Out of the Ground
The bodhisattvas who have come from other world realms make the commitment to teach this sūtra in the future. The Buddha says that it will not be necessary as he has so many bodhisattvas in his realm. Immediately the ground splits open and out from the ground come countless bodhisattvas who dwell in the space below the world. The four main ones among these—Viśiṣṭacāritra, Anantacāritra, Viśuddhacāritra, and Supratiṣṭhitacāritra—ask after his welfare. Maitreya asks the Buddha who these bodhisattvas are whom no one has ever seen before. The Buddha says that they were all brought onto the path of enlightenment by himself after he attained buddhahood. Maitreya states that these bodhisattvas have been practicing for many eons, and this is like a young man introducing hundred-year-old men as his sons. Even though all present believe whatever the Buddha says, future bodhisattvas on hearing this will doubt it and as a result be reborn in the lower realms, and so he asks the Buddha to explain how this can be so.
Chapter 15: The Lifespan of the Tathāgata
The bodhisattvas ask the Buddha to explain what his long life means. He states that he had attained buddhahood countless quintillions of eons ago, but stated that he had only recently attained it in order to guide beings, and therefore that was not a lie. He appears to pass into nirvāṇa but does not, and this is also not a lie, but to prevent beings from being complacent. He gives the parable of a doctor whose sons have been poisoned. He has the antidote but some of his sons will not take it because their minds are affected. He then goes away and sends them the news that he has died. They then realize the value of what he has given them and take the antidote. The doctor then reveals to them that he is still alive. In the same way, the Buddha uses skillful methods and should not be called a liar.
Chapter 16: The Extent of the Merit
The Buddha tells Maitreya that hearing this teaching on his lifespan has caused countless bodhisattvas to attain various levels of accomplishment. Miraculous events also occurred wherever the buddhas who had gathered were present. The Buddha states that hearing this teaching and believing it brings an inconceivably greater merit than practicing the first five perfections for eons. Those who have faith in the teaching will see the Buddha teaching in this world as a pure realm filled with bodhisattvas. Those who carry the text on their shoulder are carrying the Buddha, and they do not need to build stūpas or temples, as those who have this devotion to the sūtra have made vast offerings in the presence of the Buddha. They will develop excellent qualities and will attain buddhahood. Caityas should be built in honor of the Buddha wherever teachers of this sūtra have been.
Chapter 17: Teaching the Merit of Rejoicing
Maitreya asks the Buddha how much merit is created from rejoicing in hearing the sūtra. The Buddha gives a parable of someone who hears the teaching and repeats it to someone else, who repeats it to someone else, and so on, until it is heard by a fiftieth person. Even if they only hear one line of verse, their merit is far greater than that of a person who satisfies all the beings in four hundred thousand realms with gifts for eighty years and then brings them all to arhathood. The merit such a person would accrue would not even be a quintillionth of the merit of the one who rejoiced in hearing one line of verse that had been passed on through fifty people. Those who go to a temple to listen to the sūtra even briefly will have excellent carriages in their future life. If they sit down they will have the thrones of deities and kings, and if they make someone else listen to it, even for a moment, they will have an excellent physical body in their future lives.
The Buddha tells the bodhisattva Satatasamitābhiyukta that those who are devoted to this sūtra will attain numerous special qualities of purified faculties, which are those of the body’s senses and not yet the divine faculties. Nevertheless, the eight hundred qualities of the faculty of the eye include seeing everywhere, and seeing everyone, in the world realm of a billion worlds. The twelve hundred qualities of aural perception include hearing every sound, both those produced by beings and natural sounds, in the world realm of a billion worlds, without being overwhelmed by them. The eight hundred qualities of olfactory perception include sensing all smells of beings and matter in the world realm of a billion worlds. The twelve hundred qualities of gustatory perception include all tastes becoming divine, and the faculty of their tongue teaching the Dharma with a voice that will delight everyone, both humans and nonhumans, and inspire their veneration. The eight hundred qualities of the sensory faculty of the body include having a purified body the color of beryl and seeing within one’s body all the beings within a billion worlds. The twelve hundred qualities of the mental faculty include understanding the many meanings contained within one verse and teaching them for as long as a year, and knowing all the thoughts of all beings in a million worlds such that one’s teaching is always correct.
Chapter 19: Sadāparibhūta
The Buddha tells the bodhisattva Mahāsthāmaprāpta that those who revile adherents to this sūtra will experience the bad result of being mute, while those who support it will have purified faculties. He says that long ago there was a world in which there was a series of millions of buddhas all named Bhīṣmagarjitasvararāja. When the Dharma of the first of these was coming to an end, there was a bodhisattva called Sadāparibhūta who endured the condemnation of other monastics and lay-followers. When he was dying he heard the words of The White Lotus of the Good Dharma coming from the air, taught those who had previously reviled him, and lived on for millions of years, teaching this sūtra during the time of millions of succeeding buddhas until finally he attained enlightenment. Śākyamuni reveals that he was Sadāparibhūta and also that those who reviled him were now among his students. He encourages them to maintain and teach this sūtra after he has passed into nirvāṇa.
Chapter 20: The Tathāgata’s Miracles
Viśiṣṭacāritra and the other bodhisattvas who emerged from the ground, along with a vast number of other beings, make their commitment to uphold the sūtra in the future. Then both Śākyamuni and Prabhūtaratna, still seated inside the stūpa, and the buddhas in the other world realms, extend their tongues as far as the paradise of Brahmā, and their tongues radiate a vast number of light rays, from within which appear countless bodhisattvas who teach the Dharma while floating in the sky above a great number of worlds. This miracle continues for a hundred thousand years. Then they make the sound of clearing their throats and snap their fingers, a sound that is heard throughout the worlds, which shake. All the buddhas then declare that the beings in the other worlds should pay homage to Śākyamuni and make offerings to him because he is teaching this sūtra. They throw offerings in his direction and they cover like a canopy this world and all other worlds. The Buddha states that there would be no end to describing the benefits of maintaining and promulgating this sūtra, and wherever it is taught or transcribed should be regarded as a holy place of the Buddha.
The bodhisattva Bhaiṣajyarāja asks the Buddha how much merit someone who upholds this sūtra will have. The Buddha replies that someone dedicated to just one line of verse from the sūtra will have greater merit than that from making offerings to quintillions of buddhas. Bhaiṣajyarāja then recites a dhāraṇī that will protect the holders of the sūtra from attacks, and states that to attack such a person is to attack the quintillions of buddhas who have pronounced that dhāraṇī. Then the bodhisattva Pradānaśūra recites a dhāraṇī for the same purpose. Then the deity Vaiśravaṇa, one of the four mahārāja deities, recites a dhāraṇī for the protection and good fortune of holders of the sūtra. Then Virūḍhaka, one of the other mahārājas, arrives and recites a protective dhāraṇī. Then the rākṣasī Hārītī, accompanied by ten other rākṣasīs and their followers, comes and recites a protective dhāraṇī, which they all say will make the head of one who attacks a holder of this sūtra explode. The Buddha expresses his pleasure and tells them to protect those who study and offer to the sūtra, even someone who only knows the name of the sūtra.
Chapter 22: The Past of Bhaiṣajyarāja
The bodhisattva Nakṣatrarājasaṃkusumitābhijña asks the Buddha to relate what the bodhisattva Bhaiṣajyarāja has practiced in his past lives. The Buddha says that in the distant past there was a buddha named Candrasūryavimalaprabhāsaśrī with a lifespan of many eons in a world that was a pure realm. He taught The White Lotus of the Good Dharma. His student bodhisattva Sarvasattvapriyadarśana practices this and attains samādhi, at which time miraculous events occur. Then Sarvasattvapriyadarśana spends twelve years eating aromatic resins and drinking perfumed oils and then sets his body on fire as an offering to the Buddha. The light of the fire shines through many worlds and the buddhas there commend him for his supreme offering. He burns for twelve years and then is miraculously born, with the power of speech, to a king. He then flies in a precious palace to see Buddha Candrasūryavimalaprabhāsaśrī. That buddha tells him that he is passing into nirvāṇa that very night and entrusts his students and his relics to Sarvasattvapriyadarśana. Sarvasattvapriyadarśana cremates Buddha Candrasūryavimalaprabhāsaśrī and places the relics inside eighty-four thousand stūpas and then burns his arm as an offering to them. The other students are upset, but invoking the power of truth his body becomes golden and his arm is restored. The Buddha states that Sarvasattvapriyadarśana was a previous life of Bhaiṣajyarāja. He then proclaims how the offering of the body is the greatest way to create merit and that a follower of the Mahāyāna should burn a toe, finger, or a limb as an offering to a stūpa. He describes through analogies how this sūtra is superior to all other sūtras, and will bring many kinds of benefits. In particular, devotion to this particular chapter will end rebirth as a woman and bring rebirth in Sukhāvatī. The Buddha then entrusts the propagation of this chapter to the bodhisattva Nakṣatrarājasaṃkusumitābhijña.
Chapter 23: Gadgadasvara
The Buddha emits a light from his ūrṇā hair that spreads through buddha realms in the east and reaches Vairocanaraśmipratimaṇḍitā, in which lives Buddha Kamaladalavimalanakṣatrarājasaṃkusumitābhijña and the bodhisattva Gadgadasvara. Gadgadasvara wishes to come to Sahā to see Buddha Śākyamuni, enters samādhi, and many miraculous lotuses appear on Vulture Peak. The Buddha explains to Mañjuśrī that this is a sign of Gadgadasvara’s intention to come. Śākyamuni asks Buddha Prabhūtaratna to cause him to come. Buddha Prabhūtaratna speaks words inviting Gadgadasvara, who comes with quintillions of bodhisattvas, makes an offering to Śākyamuni, and conveys Kamaladalavimalanakṣatrarājasaṃkusumitābhijña’s respectful inquiry as to Śākyamuni’s health, and so forth. The bodhisattva Padmaśrī asks Śākyamuni about Gadgadasvara’s past. Śākyamuni describes how in a previous life in the distant past, in the realm Sarvarūpasaṃdarśanā, Gadgadasvara made extensive offerings to Buddha Meghadundubhisvararāja, and subsequently to countless buddhas, and how he has also taught this very sūtra to beings in various divine and human forms through the samādhi manifestation of all forms. Through hearing the contents of this chapter a vast number of bodhisattvas attained that samādhi, a lesser number attained receptivity to the nonarising of phenomena, and Padmaśrī attained the samādhi of this sūtra. Gadgadasvara and his accompanying bodhisattvas return to his realm and relate to the buddha there what had occurred.
Chapter 24: Facing Everywhere: The Teaching of the Miracles of Avalokiteśvara
The bodhisattva Akṣayamati asks the Buddha what the name “Avalokiteśvara” means. The Buddha replies by recounting how hearing the name of Avalokiteśvara, and thinking of him, or calling out to him, will save beings from all kinds of dangers, such as fire, drowning, snakes, and violence. If someone pays homage to Avalokiteśvara they will be freed from desire, anger, or ignorance. A woman who does so will have an excellent son. The merit from paying homage to him is equal to paying homage to countless buddhas. Akṣayamati asks the Buddha about the activity of Avalokiteśvara, and the Buddha states how he takes the form of various deities and humans, buddhas, and bodhisattvas in various worlds so as to teach the Dharma. Akṣayamati then offers a pearl necklace to Avalokiteśvara, who then divides it into two and offers it to the two buddhas present: Śākyamuni and Prabhūtaratna. Verses summarize the prose with the addition of describing how Avalokiteśvara is the attendant of Amitābha in Sukhāvatī. Then the bodhisattva Dharaṇīṃdhara states that great merit is obtained by hearing this chapter. Finally the sūtra describes how eighty-four thousand beings developed the aspiration for enlightenment on hearing the Buddha teach this chapter.
Chapter 25: The Past of King Śubhavyūha
The Bhagavān tells the gathered assembly that in the distant past in a world called Vairocanaraśmipratimaṇḍitā there was a Buddha named Jaladharagarjitaghoṣasusvaranakṣatrarājasaṃkusumitābhijña. At that time there was a King Śubhavyūha, Queen Vimaladattā, and their two sons, Vimalagarbha and Vimalanetra. The sons asked their mother for permission to go and see the Buddha, but she said as the king was a follower of brahmins he would not allow it. Therefore they performed miracles that impressed the king so that he, the queen, his court, and thousands of other beings came to see this buddha who was teaching this very sūtra. The king gave up his throne to his younger brother and he and all the others became bhikṣus and bhikṣuṇīs. After eighty-four thousand years he attained a samādhi so that he rose into the sky from where he spoke to the Buddha of how his sons were realized beings and his teachers. The Buddha explained that beings find teachers because of their past merit. The king descended to the earth, paid homage to the Buddha’s qualities and then returned back up into the sky. He and his queen cast a string of pearls toward the Buddha as an offering that transformed into a floating building of pearls within which the Buddha sat. The Buddha prophesied the king’s attainment of buddhahood. Then Śākyamuni explains that the bodhisattva Padmaśrī was the king, the bodhisattva Vairocanaraśmipratimaṇḍitadhvajarāja was the queen, and the bodhisattvas Bhaiṣajyarāja and Bhaiṣajyasamudgata were the two sons. He says the world will pay homage to anyone who knows the names of those two bodhisattvas. The chapter concludes by saying that eighty-four thousand beings attained Dharma eyes through listening to this very chapter.
Chapter 26: Samantabhadra’s Encouragement
The bodhisattva Samantabhadra with countless bodhisattvas and beings come from an eastern world to the Buddha and request the teaching of this sūtra, and the Buddha describes the four qualities of a woman who will obtain this sūtra. Samantabhadra promises to protect those who uphold the sūtra in the future from humans and nonhumans. He will come mounted on an elephant to its practitioners and reveal himself to them. And he gives a dhāraṇī that will bless them, so that they will obtain the sūtra and that it will continue to be preserved in the world. He describes the benefits of dedication to the sūtra, which include being reborn in the Trāyastriṃśa and Tuṣita paradises. He states that the holders of this sūtra will have many good qualities and should be seen as future buddhas and respected as buddhas, while those who disrespect them will have various kinds of physical ailments and deformities. The chapter concludes by saying that countless bodhisattvas attained a great power of mental retention through listening to this very chapter.
Chapter 27: The Entrusting
The Buddha miraculously takes the right hands of all the bodhisattvas in his right hand and entrusts the sūtra to them. They promise to make it widespread. The Buddha gives his leave to all the buddhas who had come from other worlds to depart, and Buddha Prabhūtaratna and all other buddhas, bodhisattvas, and beings rejoice and praise the Buddha’s teaching.
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).
Dharmamitra. tshig rab tu gsal ba (Prasphuṭapadā). Toh 3796, Degé Tengyur vol. 87 (sher phyin, nya), folios 1a–110a.
Jānavajra. de bzhin gshegs pa’i snying po’i rgyan (Tathāgatahṛdayālaṁkāra). Toh 4019, Degé Tengyur vol. 224 (mdo ’grel, pi), folios 1a–310a.
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.
Vasubandhu. theg pa chen po bsdus pa’i ’grel pa (Mahāyānasaṁgrahabhāṣya). Toh 4050, Degé Tengyur vol. 225 (sems tsam, yi), folios 121b–190a.
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.
Secondary Tibetan Sources
Lodrö Gyaltsen (blo gros rgyal mtshan). dam chos pad dkar gyi tshig don la gzhan gyi log par rtog pa dgag pa. In Sa skya bka’ ’bum vol. 15, Kathmandu: Sachen International, 2006, folios 469–485.
Butön Rinchen Drup (bu ston rin chen grub). bde bar gshegs pa’i bstan pa’i gsal byed chos kyi ’byung gnas gsung rab rin po che’i mdzod. In The Collected Works of Bu-ston. Edited by Lokesh Chandra from the collections of Raghu Vira. 28 volumes. Zhol bka’ ’gyur par khang edition. New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1965–71, 633–1056.
Changkya Rölpai Dorjé (lcang skya rol pa’i rdo rje). dam chos pad ma dkar po’i kha byang. In lcang skya rol pa’i rdo rje’i gsung ’bum, vol. 5 (ca), Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 2003, folios 525–532.
Pekar Zangpo (pad dkar bzang po). ’phags pa dam chos padma dkar po’i mdo. In mdo sde spyi’i rnam bzhag, Beijing: mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2006, pp. 187–189.
Secondary Non-Tibetan Sources
Abbott, Terry Rae. “Vasubandhu’s Commentary on the Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra: A Study of its History and Significance.” PhD diss., University of California at Berkeley, 1985.
Boucher, Daniel. “Dharmarakṣa and the Transmission of Buddhism to China.” Asia Major 19 (2006): 13–37.
Deeg, Max. “The Saṅgha of Devadatta: Fiction and History of a Heresy in the Buddhist Tradition.” Journal of the International College for Advanced Buddhist Studies (March 31, 1999): 195–230.
Dessein, Bart. “The Mahāsāṃghikas and the Origins of Mahāyāna Buddhism: Evidence Provided in the *Abhidharmamahāvibhāṣaśāstra.” The Eastern Buddhist 40, no. 1 (2009): 25–61.
Dharmachakra Translation Committee, trans. The Play in Full (Lalitavistara, Toh 95). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2013.
Galloway, Brian. “Thus have I heard: At one time….” Indo-Iranian Journal 34, no. 2 (April 1991): 87–104.
Groner, Paul and Jacqueline I. Stone. “Editors’ Introduction: The Lotus Sutra in Japan.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies vol. 41, no. 1 (2014): 1–23.
Hanh, Thich Nhat. Peaceful Action, Open Heart: Lessons from the Lotus Sutra. Berkeley: Parallax Press, 2008.
Heirman, Ann. “Yijing’s View on the Bhikṣunīs’ Standard Robes.” Chung-Hwa Buddhist Journal 21 (2008): 145–158.
Hinüber, Oskar von. “A Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra Manuscript from Khotan: The Gift of a Pious Khotanese Family.” Journal of Oriental Studies 24 (2014): 134–156.
———. “The Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra at Gilgit: Manuscripts, Worshippers, and Artists.” Journal of Oriental Studies22 (2012): 52–67.
———. Bronzes of the Ancient Kingdom of Gilgit and Royal Patronage in Early North-Western India and Pakistan. Online lecture: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2010).
Jamieson, R. C. “Sanskrit Lotus Sutra Manuscripts from Cambridge University Library (Add. 1682 and Add. 1683).” Journal of Oriental Studies 12, no. 6 (2002): 165–173.
Jeffus, Ryusho. Lotus Sutra Practice Guide: 35-Day Practice Outline. Charlotte, NC: Myosho-ji, 2012.
Karashima, Seishi. “Who Composed the Mahāyāna Scriptures?—the Mahāsāṃghikas and Vaitulya Scriptures.” ARIRIAB XVIII (2015): 113–162.
———. “Some Features of the Language of the Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra.” Indo-Iranian Journal 44 (2001): 207–230.
Kim, Young-ho. Tao-sheng’s Commentary on the Lotus Sūtra: A Study and Translation. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990.
Lancaster, L. R. The Korean Buddhist Canon: A Descriptive Catalogue.
Laufer, Berthold. “Sanskrit Karketana.” Mémoires de la Société de Linguistique 22 (1922): 43–46.
Lopez Jr., Donald S. The Lotus Sutra: A Biography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016.
Miller, Robert, et al. The Chapter on Going Forth (Toh 1, ch. 1). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2018.
Mookerji, Radha Kumud. Ancient Indian Education: Brahmanical and Buddhist. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1989.
Reeves, Gene. The Stories of the Lotus Sutra. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2010.
Roberts, Peter Alan, trans. The King of Samādhis Sūtra (Samādhirājasūtra, Toh 127). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2018.
———, trans. The Ten Bhūmis (Daśabhūmika, Toh 44-31). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2021.
Sparham, Gareth, trans. The Long Explanation of the Noble Perfection of Wisdom in One Hundred Thousand, Twenty-Five Thousand, and Eighteen Thousand Lines (*Āryaśatasāhasrikāpañcaviṃśatisāhasrikāṣṭādaśasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitābṛhaṭṭīkā, Toh 3808). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2022.
Schoening, Jeffrey. “Translated Sutra Commentaries in Tibet.” In Tibetan Literature: Studies in Genre, edited by José Cabezón and Roger Jackson, 111–124. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 1996.
Silk, Jonathan Alan. “The Yogācāra Bhikṣu.” In Beiju: Buddhist Studies in Honor of Professor Gadjin M. Nagao, edited by J. Silk, 256–314. Studies in the Buddhist Traditions 3. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997.
Suguro, Shinjō. Introduction to the Lotus Sutra. Fremont, CA: Jain Publishing Company, 1998.
Tanabe, George J. and Willa Jane Tanabe. The Lotus Sutra in Japanese Culture. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1989.
Teiser, Stephen F. and Jacqueline I. Stone. Readings of the Lotus Sūtra. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.
Tiantai Lotus Texts. BDK English Tripiṭaka Series. Berkeley, CA: Bukkyō Dendō Kyōkai America, 2013, 93–149.
Tola, Fernando and Carmen Dragonetti. Buddhist Positiveness: Studies on the Lotus Sūtra. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2009.
Winder, Marianne. “Vaidurya.” Studies on Indian Medical History (1987): 85–94.
Yuyama, Akira. A Bibliography of the Sanskrit Texts of the “Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra.” Canberra: Faculty of Asian Studies in Association with Australian National University Press, 1970.
Zengwen, Yang. “Saddharmapundarikasutra in Chinese History and its Significance in the 21st Centry.” Journal of Oriental Studies vol. 10 (2000): 10–20.
Zhongxin, Jiang. Sanskrit Lotus Sutra Fragments from the Lüshun Museum Collection (Tokyo: Sōka Gakkai, 1997).