The Lotus Sutra

92,709 words

The Lotus Sūtra (Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra) is one of the most popular and influential Mahāyāna sūtras, and is known for its extensive instruction on the concept and usage of skillful means (upāya), the seventh paramita or "perfection of a Bodhisattva". The ultimate teaching of the sutra is implied to the reader that "full Buddhahoo...

Translators’ Introduction

This translation was made from the Chinese version by Kumārajīva, the Miao fa lian hua jing, in seven fascicles (Taishō Vol. 9, No. 262, 1c12–62b1). Originally from the royal family of Kucha in the present-day autonomous province of Xinqiang, China, Kumārajīva is generally believed to have translated the Saddharmapuṇḍarīka-sūtra (Scripture of the White Lotus of the Marvelous Law) into Chinese in 406 C.E.

In translating the Chinese text into English we used the Kasuga Edition of Kumārajīva’s version of the Lotus Sutra as the basic text, rather than the Taishō Edition. With very few exceptions the readings in these two editions are almost exactly the same in meaning, and the differences are too slight to have any significant effect on the translation. We have tried to make our translation as readable as possible without straying from the original meaning.

The last line of the first verse in Chapter XXIII (Taishō Vol. 9, No. 262, 53b25), which we have translated as, “I have paid homage to the Bhagavat/In order to attain the utmost wisdom,” has no corresponding reading in any extant Sanskrit manuscript, nor is it found in the Tibetan canon or the Chinese version translated from the Sanskrit by Dharmarakṣa in 267 C.E. (Taishō Vol. 9, No. 263). Furthermore, it is absent in a number of authoritative editions of the Buddhist canon in Chinese.

According to the late Professor Shōkō Kabutogi, the foremost specialist in various editions of Kumārajīva’s version of the Lotus Sutra, the Kasuga Edition is superior to other editions. The most reliable edition, printed in 1263, is now kept at the Tōshōdaiji in Nara. We are pleased to say that this text was published in facsimile under the editorship of Dr. Kabutogi (Tokyo: The Reiyukai, 1979). Furthermore, at the advice of Dr. Kabutogi, the late Professor Yukio Sakamoto included this version of the text along with his three-volume Japanese translation in the pocketbook series published by Iwanami Shoten (Tokyo, 1962–67). In many cases, however, we have not necessarily followed the traditional SinoJapanese interpretation.

In this connection we have consulted the Sanskrit and, on rare occasions, the Tibetan versions. Of the former, the so-called Central Asian recension, and in particular the Kashgar Manuscript, is of great importance. This manuscript was no doubt copied in the ancient oasis town of Khotan, but it is generally called the Kashgar Manuscript because the majority of the manuscript was obtained there in 1903 by N. F. Petrovsky, the Imperial Russian consul at the time. The manuscript unfortunately has not been kept intact. It is now scattered in a number of places throughout the world and some folios are missing or damaged. Never theless, the available portions have been almost completely reproduced in facsimile under the editorship of Professor Lokesh Chandra of the International Academy of Indian Culture in New Delhi (1976; reprinted by The Reiyukai in 1977). As the fruit of painstaking work, Professor Hirofumi Toda of Tokushima University published a romanization of this text (Tokushima, 1981).

It is interesting to note here that in a number of cases, particularly those of Chinese proper names, either in transliteration or translation, Kumārajīva’s version agrees with the readings of the Central Asian Sanskrit recension rather than that in others, such as those found in Nepal or at the ancient site of Gilgit in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent and some of those found in Tibet. In such cases we have gladly adopted the version from the Central Asian recension, since some of the readings in Chinese were puzzling.

Within the Buddhist canon, the Lotus Sutra is one text that should be read as a whole. We recommend reading the text from the beginning and continuing chapter by chapter so that this mag nificent drama can be fully grasped as it unfolds. In this sense, Chapter I can be seen as a dramatic prelude, while the well-known parables that emerge during the course of the sutra serve to clarify and enliven the entire narrative.

For the reader who wants a quick summary of the Lotus Sutra, we suggest the preface to Professor Leon Hurvitz’s meticulous work, The Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma (New York: Columbia University Press, 1976).

Those who wish to conduct further research into the Lotus Sutra are advised to consult an indispensable bibliographical work by Professor Hajime Nakamura, Indian Buddhism: A Survey with Bibliographical Notes (Hirakata: Kansai University of Foreign Studies Publication, 1980), and an earlier work by Akira Yuyama, A Bibliography of the Sanskrit Texts of the Saddhar map uṇḍarīka sūtra (Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1970). The latter volume includes information on versions in other languages.

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