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three baskets texts
The Mahayana Buddhist Canon consists of Tripitaka of disciplines, discourses (sutras) and dharma analysis. It is usually organised in 12 divisions of topics like Cause and Conditions and Verses. It contains virtually all the Theravada Tipikata and many sutras that the latter does not have. The Mayahana Buddhist canon is translated into the local language (except for the five untranslatables), e.g. Tibetan, Chinese and Japanese. Original language of transmission is Sanskrit. ^|^ [Source: Tan Swee Eng, buddhanet.net ^|^]

The Chinese Tripitaka contains both Indian writing and Chinese contributions. Each school selects two or three sutras as its basic authority. Versions vary often based on the decisions of editors rather than religious councils. The entire Tripitaka is a massive. An effort to print the entire thing in 980 required 130,000 printing blocks. A modern version published in Japan in the 1920s is comprised of 55 volumes. They largest sections are Mahayana sutras and Chinese commentaries on them.

Buddhist monasteries were instrumental in the development of the world's first block printing in China in the A.D. 7th century. Buddhists believe that a person can earn merit by duplicating images of Buddha and sacred Buddhist texts. The more images and texts one makes the more merit one earns. Small wooden stamps---the most primitive form of printing---as well as rubbings from stones, seals, and stencils were used to make images over and over. In this way printing developed because it was "the easiest, most efficient and most cost effective way" to earn merit.

The world's oldest surviving book, the Diamond Sutra, was printed in China in A.D. 868. It consists of Buddhist scriptures printed on 2½-foot-long, one-foot-wide sheets of paper pasted together on one 16-foot-long scroll. Because virtually all original Indian scriptures have been lost Chinese translations of Indian scriptures have been invaluable in trying to figure out what the original Indian texts said. Websites and Resources on Buddhism in China Buddhist Studies buddhanet.net ; Wikipedia article on Buddhism in China Wikipedia Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu; Buddhism: Buddha Net buddhanet.net/e-learning/basic-guide ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Internet Sacred Texts Archive sacred-texts.com/bud/index ; Early Buddhist texts, translations, and parallels, SuttaCentral suttacentral.net ; East Asian Buddhist Studies: A Reference Guide, UCLA web.archive.org ; Mahayana Buddhism: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Comparison of Buddhist Traditions (Mahayana – Therevada – Tibetan) studybuddhism.com ;
The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra: complete text and analysis nirvanasutra.net ; Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism cttbusa.org ; Chinese Religion and Philosophy: Texts Chinese Text Project ; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu


5th century Lotus Sutra fragment
Most of the Mahayana canon is in the form of Sutras, Sastras and Tantras. Sutras are the most authoritative and widely accepted as doctrine. Sustras are much less universally accepted and are usually associated with a particular school. They are often commentaries attributed by name to a person with a specific school. Tantras are secret documents linked with the esoteric Tantric sects that are only supposed to be viewed by those who have been properly initiated.

Mahayana sutras are usually statements attributed to The Buddha centuries after he supposedly said them but are true enough to Buddhist doctrines that they have been accepted as truths. Sutras are often chanted in prayers and written or printed again and again to earn merit. Most Mahayana literature is in Sanskrit, and some is in Chinese, Tibetan and Central Asian languages. The most widely used sutras are from The Perfection of Wisdom, of which there are about 30 different version put together over about a 700 year period.

Some sutras are very famous and widely read. According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The Diamond Sutra, for example, is concise and pithy in wording yet also fully expresses the idea of "prajna (wisdom)" in popular Mahayana Buddhism, thereby spreading far and wide... Another major text, The Hua-yen Sutra, expounds on the origins of the Buddhist world and the idea that all things are interconnected, being the scripture forming the basis and namesake of the Hua-yen School. Although originating in India, it later became one of the most important sects in Chinese Buddhism. The scriptures devoted to Kuan-yin, the bodhisattva of compassion, are intimately related to the development of Kuan-yin belief in the Chin and Sixteen Kingdoms era (265-439). Furthermore, after Dharmaraksa translated The True Dharma of the Lotus Sutra in 286 and Kumarajiva translated The Sublime Dharma of the Lotus Sutra, the image of Kuan-yin as a "savoir from difficulties and suffering" and "incarnation infinitum" became deeply planted in the minds of followers, thereby forming the basis of widespread views about Kuan-yin that are still held today. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: In China, “the translation of Buddhist texts from Sanskrit and other Indic and Central Asian languages into Chinese constitutes a large area of study. Although written largely in classical Chinese in the context of a premodern civilization in which relatively few people could read, Buddhist sutras were known far and wide in China. To mention just three examples: 1) The seemingly magical spell from the Heart Sutra was known by many; 2) stories from the Lotus Sutra were painted on the walls of popular temples; and 3) religious preachers, popular storytellers, and low-class dramatists alike drew on the rich trove of mythology provided by Buddhist narrative.” [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]

Chinese Buddhist Texts and Their Translators

Mario Poceski wrote in the “Encyclopedia of Buddhism”: During the early phases of Buddhism in China, one of the primary concerns for both the foreign missionaries and the native followers was to produce reliable translations of Buddhist sacred texts. The task of translating the scriptures and other canonical texts was daunting because of the sheer size of the Buddhist canon (which was constantly expanding as new texts were introduced) and because of the lack of bilingual expertise among the foreign missionaries and the native clergy, which was exacerbated by the Chinese aversion to learning foreign languages. During the early period many of the translations were small private undertakings, typically led by a foreign monk who was aided by Chinese assistants. The early translations often display a tendency to render Buddhist ideas by re-course to concepts from native Chinese thought. A case in point is the putative method of "matching the meaning" (geyi), which involved pairing of key Buddhist terms with Chinese expressions primarily derived from Daoist sources. While this hermeneutical strategy facilitated the wider diffusion of Buddhist texts and ideas among educated Chinese, it was criticized by eminent monks such as Dao'an (312–385) as an obstacle to the proper understanding of Buddhism. [Source: Mario Poceski, “Encyclopedia of Buddhism”, Gale Group Inc., 2004]

“The situation changed during the fifth century, in large part because of the translation activities of (350–409/413), arguably the most famous and influential translator in the history of Chinese Buddhism. Born in Kucha, Kumarajiva arrived in the capital of Chang'an in 401. With the generous support of the court, which facilitated the formation of a translation bureau, Kumarajiva and his assistants produced a large number of readable translations of key Mahayana scriptures and other exegetical works. As a testimony to the success of Kumarajiva's efforts, most of his translations remained the standard versions throughout the history of Buddhism in East Asia. Kumarajiva also taught a number of talented disciples about the fine points of Mahayana doctrines, especially the Madhyamaka philosophy of Nagarjuna (ca. second century c.e.).

“A number of influential translators followed in Kumarajiva's footsteps, including ParamArtha (499–569), whose translations of Yogacara texts served as a catalyst for the huge Chinese interest in the doctrines of this Indian school of Mahayana philosophy. One of the last great translators was the famous Tang monk Xuanzang (ca. 600–664). After returning from his celebrated pilgrimage to India, where for many years he studied at the main centers of Buddhist learning, Xuanzang spent the last two decades of his life translating the numerous manuscripts he brought back to China. His work was undertaken under imperial auspices, and his numerous assistants included leading Buddhist scholars. Despite their superior styling and greater philological accuracy, Xuanzang's translations did not achieve the same widespread acceptance as Kumarajiva's translations.

“In addition to the translations of canonical texts from Sanskrit and other Indic languages, there was also a large body of apocryphal texts composed in China whose origins were concealed by presenting them as translations of Indian texts. The Chinese apocrypha included both popular religious tracts as well as texts that contained sophisticated explorations of doctrinal themes. Works that belong to the first category included apocryphal scriptures that dealt with popular religious topics, such as moral principles, eschatological and messianic beliefs, cultic practices, and preter-natural powers. They often crossed the porous lines separating Buddhism from popular beliefs, and because of that they were sometimes criticized by members of the monastic elite. On the other end of the spectrum, there were apocryphal texts dealing with doctrinal issues, which exemplified Chinese appropriations of Mahayana teachings that resonated with native intellectual concerns and ways of thinking. Even though the problematic provenance of these texts was frequently noted by medieval Buddhist cataloguers, a good number of them achieved wide acclaim and became part of the canon.

“Besides texts translated from foreign languages, the Chinese Buddhist canon also came to include a large number of texts composed by Chinese authors. These texts are written in a number of genres and cover a wide range of perspectives on diverse aspects of Buddhist beliefs, doctrines, practices, and institutions. They include exegetical works (especially commentaries on important scriptures), encyclopedias, collections of biographies of eminent monks, texts dealing with monastic regulations and practices, meditation and ritual manuals, historical works, and systematic expositions of Sinitic doctrinal systems (such as Huayan and Tiantai). A large part of the canon includes texts produced by the main schools of Chinese Buddhism. An example of that type are the Chan school's records of sayings (yulu) and gong'an (Japanese, Koan) collections. In addition, there are a large number of extracanonical works—such as collections of miracle tales—that deal with popular Buddhist beliefs and practices. Buddhist themes and ideas can also be found in secular literary works, such as the poems of major Chinese poets, including Wang Wei (701–761) and Bo Juyi (772–846) during the Tang, and Su Shi (1037–1101) during the Song period.

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World's earliest printing, from a Chinese Buddhist sutra

Diamond Sutra and Other Important Sutras

The world's oldest surviving book, the Diamond Sutra, was printed with wooden blocks in China in A.D. 868. It consists of Buddhist scriptures printed on seven 2½-foot-long, one-foot-wide sheets of paper pasted together into one 16-foot-long scroll. Part of the Perfection of Wisdom text, a Mahayanist sermon preached by Buddha, it was found in cave in Gansu Province in 1907 by the British explorer Aurel Stein, who also found well-preserved 9th century silk and linen paintings.

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The full name of The Diamond Sutra in the original Sanskrit is Vajracchedika-prajñaparamita sutra. In Sanskrit, the word "vajra" means "sharpness, destroyer of all", which is why in English the diamond and thunderbolt are often used to describe it. "Prajña" refers to "wisdom". Therefore, this sutra is a canon by which ignorance can be eradicated and wisdom achieved. Since The Diamond Sutra belongs to the Prajña scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism, transcribing its text is also considered a means of achieving merit and practice beyond reading, reciting, and accepting its contents. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“The Suvarnaprabhasa-sutra (or, Golden Light Sutra) is one that highlights a discourse by Shakyamuni in Rajagriha, India. It is taught that those who embrace the scripture will obtain the protection of the four heavenly kings and other benevolent deities, and that, if a ruler takes faith in the correct teaching, these deities will protect his country. It was introduced to China in early fifth century, and was immediately received by the Han Chinese as well as the noblemen and common souls of many neighboring states. There were five Chinese translations, and to date the ten-chüan A Vision of the Suvarna-prabhasa Sutra (also known as Sovereign Kings of the Golden Light Sutra) rendered by Master I-ching (635-713) in 703, known for its comprehensiveness, accuracy, and textual fluidity, has been the most popular version. I-ching was a priest of T'ang China who traveled via marine routes to India to study Buddhism. He stayed there for twenty-five years and visited more than thirty Buddhist sites. After he returned to China with four hundred Sanskrit scriptures, I-ching devoted himself to translating them. He translated fifty-six titles of Buddhist texts in two hundred and thirty chüan, and was acknowledged as one of the four greatest translators of Buddhist scriptures. \=/

“The Hua-yen Sutra is known in Sanksrit as Avatamsaka sutra, one of the most important scriptures in Mahayana Buddhism and the main theoretical classic upon which the Hua-yen School is based. This sutra is said to have been the first expounded by the Buddha after achieving enlightenment. It describes the "The sublime world within a flower garland" where the Vairocana Buddha resides in a realm of countless buddhas that form the notion of "multitudinous buddhas". The version of The Hua-yen Sutra in the National Palace Museum collection was translated by Siksanda, including a total of 80 chapters and hence known as The Hua-yen Eighty. The original text in Sanskrit has a total of 45,000 verses, for which Empress Wu (Tze-t'ien) dispatched an emissary to Khotan to acquire. Translation was then begun at the Ta-pien-k'ung Temple in Loyang in 695, and the Chinese translation was completed in 699 at Fo-shou Temple. \=/

“Highly revered by Chinese Buddhists, the Maharatnakuta-sutra is considered one of the five greatest scriptures. Very much in the form of a monographic series, the work is a collection of forty-nine sutras introducing the doctrines of all major schools of Mahayana Buddhism, with discourses espousing the mean between two extremes and the idea of a realm of mind beyond substance or nothing. It was translated into Chinese by Bodhiruci (562-727) and collated by him with various previous translations in 713.” \=/

“Buddhism has a total of 84,000 Dharma gates by which anyone can reach enlightenment, approach the summit of wisdom, and uncover ways of deliverance. While this orientation is rather spiritual and philosophical, the pragmatic requirements of the finite world have not been unattended to in the realm of Buddhism. As a matter of fact, many Dharmaparyaya's, such as those texts of esoteric teachings, are intended to assist man in his pursuit of happiness, wealth, and well-being, as well as his search for protection against diseases and misfortunes. The Svaraga-bhumyasta-rajas-riddhi-mantra-sutra is one such example.

Sutra of the great virtue of wisdom

Lotus Sutra

The “Lotus of the Good Law Sutra,” or more simply “the Lotus Sutra,” is one of the most widely venerated and beautiful Buddhist scriptures. Followers often believe that salvation can be achieved by repeatedly chanting, "I take my refuge in the Lotus Sutra" and passages from the Lotus sutra in front of a small altar containing a scroll with Chinese characters representing the Lotus Sutra. Translations of it into English or other Western languages are not very good.

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “The Lotus Sūtra is a Buddhist scripture composed well after the death of the historical Buddha (around 483 B.C.) and written down in Sanskrit even later. The scripture was translated into Chinese at least five different times between 255 and 601 CE and proved to be a tremendously influential text for Chinese Buddhism. The Lotus Sūtra is a text of the Mahāyāna School of Buddhism. As such, its major message is that there is only one way to reach enlightenment, and that is through the way of the bodhisattva as described in the Lotus Sūtra. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]

“The Lotus Sūtra is the most popular and influential Mahayana Buddhist scriptures. It is the basis on which the Tiantai, Tendai, and Nichiren schools of Buddhism in China and Japan were established. The earliest known Sanskrit title for the sutra is the “Saddharma Pundarika Sutra,” which translates to “Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma.” In English, the shortened form Lotus Sutra is commonThe most respected version in Chinese is the translation carried out under the direction of the Indian monk Kumārajīva in A.D. 406. For many East Asian Buddhists, the Lotus Sutra contains the ultimate and complete teaching of the Buddha and the reciting of the text is believed to be very auspicious. [Source: Wikipedia]

History of the Lotus Sūtra

The Lotus Sutra presents itself as a discourse delivered by the Buddha toward the end of his life. The tradition in Mahayana states that the sutras were written down during the life of the Buddha and stored for five hundred years in a naga-realm. After this, they were reintroduced into the human realm at the time of the Fourth Buddhist Council in Kashmir. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The Lotus Sutra was originally translated from Sanskrit into Chinese by Dharmaraksa (Zhu Fahu) in A.D. 286 in Chang'an. However, the view that there is a high degree of probability that the base text for that translation was actually written in a Prakrit language has gained widespread acceptance. Jan Nattier has recently summarized this aspect of the early textual transmission of such Buddhist scriptures in China thus, bearing in mind that Dharmaraksa's period of activity falls well within the period she defines: "Studies to date indicate that Buddhist scriptures arriving in China in the early centuries of the Common Era were composed not just in one Indian dialect but in several . . . in sum, the information available to us suggests that, barring strong evidence of another kind, we should assume that any text translated in the second or third century AD was not based on Sanskrit, but one or other of the many Prakrit vernaculars." It may have originally been composed in a Prakrit dialect and then later translated into Sanskrit to lend it greater respectability. +

Sanskrit Lotus Sutra from Turkestan

According to Jonathan Silk, the influence of the Lotus Sutra in India may have been limited, but "it is a prominent scripture in East Asian Buddhism."The sutra has most prominence in Tiantai (sometimes called "The Lotus School") and Nichiren Buddhism. It is also very influential in Zen Buddhism. Tao Sheng, a fifth-century Chinese Buddhist monk wrote the earliest commentary on the Lotus sutra.Tao Sheng was known for promoting the concept of Buddha nature and the idea that even deluded people will attain enlightenment. +

Zhiyi, the generally credited founder of the Tiantai school of Buddhism, was the student of Nanyue Huisiwho was the leading authority of his time on the Lotus Sutra. Zhiyi's philosophical synthesis saw the Lotus sutra as the final teaching of the Buddha and the highest teaching of Buddhism. He wrote two commentaries on the sutra: Profound meanings of the Lotus sutra and Words and phrases of the Lotus sutra. Zhiyi also linked the teachings of the Lotus sutra with the Buddha nature teachings of the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra and made a distinction between the "Eternal Buddha" Vairocana and the manifestations. In Tiantai, Vairocana (the primeval Buddha) is seen as the 'Bliss body' - Sambhogakaya - of the historical Gautama Buddha. Consequently, the Lotus Sutra is a very important sutra in Tiantai and correspondingly, in Japanese Tendai (founded by Saicho, 767–822). Tendai Buddhism was the dominant form of mainstream Buddhism in Japan for many years. +

Major Teachings of the Lotus Sutra

1) One vehicle, many skillful means: The Lotus sutra is known for its extensive instruction on the concept and usage of skillful means, the seventh paramita or perfection of a Bodhisattva – mostly in the form of parables. The many 'skillful' or 'expedient' means and the "three vehicles" are revealed to all be part of the One Vehicle (Ekayana), which is also the Bodhisattva path. This is also one of the first sutras to use the term Mahayana, or "Great Vehicle". In the Lotus sutra, the One Vehicle encompasses so many different teachings because the Buddha's compassion and wish to save all beings led him to adapt the teaching to suit many different kinds of people. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Paul Williams explains: “Although the corpus of teachings attributed to the Buddha, if taken as a whole, embodies many contradictions, these contradictions are only apparent. Teachings are appropriate to the context in which they are given and thus their contradictions evaporate. The Buddha’s teachings are to be used like ladders, or, to apply an age-old Buddhist image, like a raft employed to cross a river. There is no point in carrying the raft once the journey has been completed and its function fulfilled. When used, such a teaching transcends itself.” [Source: “Mahayana Buddhism: the doctrinal foundations” by Paul Williams (Routledge, 1989) p. 151]

The sutra emphasizes that all these seemingly different teachings are actually just skillful applications of the one dharma and thus all constitute the "One Buddha Vehicle and knowledge of all modes". The Lotus sutra sees all other teachings are subservient to, propagated by and in the service of the ultimate truth of the One Vehicle leading to Buddhahood. The Lotus Sutra also claims to be superior to other sutras and states that full Buddhahood is only arrived at by exposure to its teachings and skillful means. +

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Goryeo-Illustrated manuscript of the Lotus Sutra, 1340. Korea

2) All beings have potential to become Buddhas: The Lotus sutra is also significant because it reveals that women, evil people and even animals can be bodhisattvas and have the potential to attain full Buddhahood. It also teaches that all people equally can attain Buddhahood in their present form. That is, through the Lotus Sutra, people need neither practice austerities for countless kalpas nor wait for rebirth in a different physical form (previous teachings held that women must be reborn as men and then practice for innumerable kalpas in order to become Buddhas). Through its many stories and parables, the Lotus sutra affirms the spiritual equality of all beings.The Lotus sutra also teaches that the Buddha has many embodiments or emanations and these are the countless bodhisattva disciples. These bodhisattvas choose to remain in the world to save all beings and to keep the teaching alive. According to Gene Reeves: "Because the Buddha and his Dharma are alive in such bodhisattvas, he himself continues to be alive. The fantastically long life of the Buddha, in other words, is at least partly a function of and dependent on his being embodied in others." +

3) The nature of the Buddhas: Another concept introduced by the Lotus Sutra is the idea that the Buddha is an eternal entity, who achieved nirvana eons ago, but remains in the world to help teach beings the Dharma time and again. He reveals himself as the "father" of all beings and evinces the loving care of just such a father. Moreover, the sutra indicates that even after the parinirvana (apparent physical death) of a Buddha, that Buddha continues to be real and to be capable of communicating with the world.The idea that the physical death of a Buddha is the termination of that Buddha is graphically refuted by the appearance of another Buddha, who passed long before. In the vision of the Lotus Sutra, Buddhas are ultimately immortal. Crucially, not only are there multiple Buddhas in this view, but an infinite stream of Buddhas extending infinitely in space in the ten directions and through unquantifiable eons of time. The Lotus Sutra illustrates a sense of timelessness and the inconceivable, often using large numbers and measurements of time and space. +

The Buddha of the Lotus sutra states: “In this way, since my attainment of Buddhahood it has been a very great interval of time. My life-span is incalculable asatkhyeyakalpas [rather a lot of aeons], ever enduring, never perishing. O good men! The life-span I achieved in my former treading of the bodhisattva path even now is not exhausted, for it is twice the above number. Yet even now, though in reality I am not to pass into extinction [enter final nirvana], yet I proclaim that I am about to accept extinction. By resort to these expedient devices [this skill-in-means] the Thus Come One [the Tathagata] teaches and converts the beings. [Source: “ Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma: The Lotus Sutra” translated by Leon Hurvitz (Columbia University Press, 1976]

Chapters of the Lotus Sutra

The Lotus Sutra is comprised on 28 chapters: Chapter 1: Introduction - During a gathering at Vulture Peak, Gautama Buddha goes into a deep meditation, the earth shakes in six ways, and he brings forth a ray of light which illuminates thousands of "Buddha-fields" in the east.Bodhisattva Manjusri then states that the Buddha is about to expound his ultimate teaching. Chapter 2: Ways and Means - Shakyamuni explains his use of skillful means to adapt his teachings according to the capacities of his audience. He reveals that the ultimate purpose of the Buddhas is to cause sentient beings "to obtain the insight of the Buddha" and "to enter the way into the insight of the Buddha". Chapter 3: A Parable - The Buddha teaches a parable in which a father uses the promise of various toy carts to get his children out of a burning house, once they are outside, he gives them all one large cart to travel in instead. This symbolizes how the Buddha uses the Three Vehicles: Arhatship, Pratyekabuddhahood and Samyaksambuddhahood, as skilful means to liberate all beings - even though there is only one vehicle. The Buddha also promises Sariputra that he will attain enlightenment. Chapter 4: Faith and Understanding - The parable of the poor son and his rich father, who guides him to regain self-confidence and "recognize his own Buddha-wisdom". Chapter 5: Parable of the plants - This parable says that the Dharma is like a great monsoon rain that nourishes many different kinds of plants who represent Sravakas, Pratyekabuddhas, and Bodhisattvas, and all beings receiving the teachings according to their respective capacities. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Illustrated Lotus Sutra from Chenan, Korea

Chapter 6: Assurances of Becoming a Buddha - The Buddha prophesizes the enlightenment of Mahakasyapa, Subhuti, Mahakatyayana and Mahamaudgalyayana. Chapter 7: The Magic City - The Buddha teaches a parable about a group of people seeking a great treasure who are tired of their journey and wish to quit. Their guide creates a magical phantom city for them to rest in and then makes it disappear. The Buddha explains that the magic city is the provisional teachings of Buddhism and the treasure is enlightenment. Chapter 8: Assurances for 500 Arhats. - 500 Arhats are assured of their future Buddhahood and they tell the parable of a man who has fallen asleep after drinking and whose friend sews a jewel into his garment. When he wakes up he continues a life of poverty without realizing he is really rich, he only discovers the jewel after meeting his old friend again. The hidden jewel has been interpreted as a symbol of Buddha-nature. Zimmermann noted the obvious similarity with the nine parables in the Tathagatagarbha Sutra that illustrate how the indwelling Buddha in sentient beings is hidden by negative mental states. Chapter 9: Assurances for the Trainees and Adepts. - Ananda, Rahula and two thousand Sravakas are assured of their future Buddhahood. +

Chapter 10: Teacher of the Dharma - Presents the practices of teaching the sutra which includes accepting, embracing, reading, chanting, writing, explaining, propagating it, and living in accordance with its teachings. Chapter 11: The Treasure stupa - A great jeweled stupa rises from the earth and floats in the air; a voice is heard from within praising the Lotus Sutra. It is revealed that another Buddha resides in the tower, the Buddha Prabhutaratna (Many-Treasures) and that there are other countless Buddhas in the ten directions, who are now also summoned by the Buddha. This chapter reveals the eternal nature of Buddhahood and the doctrine of the existence of multiple Buddhas at the same time. Chapter 12: Devadatta - Through the stories of the Dragon King's daughter and Devadatta, the Buddha teaches that everyone can become enlightened - women, animals, and even the most sinful murderers. Chapter 13: Encouragement to uphold the sutra - The Buddha encourages all beings to embrace the teachings of the sutra in all times, even in the most difficult ages to come. The Buddha prophesizes that six thousand nuns who are also present will become Buddhas. Chapter 14: Peace and Contentment - This chapter explains that even though life is filled with challenges, if we practice the dharma diligently through thoughts, words, and deeds, we can be peaceful, joyful and content. Virtues such as patience, gentleness, a calm mind, wisdom and charity are to be cultivated. +

Chapter 15: Springing Up from the Earth - In this chapter countless bodhisattvas spring up from the earth, ready to teach, and the Buddha reveals that there have been innumerable bodhisattvas propagating the dharma for aeons. This confuses some disciples including Maitreya, but the Buddha affirms that he has taught all of these bodhisattvas himself. Chapter 16: The eternal lifespan of the Tathagata - The Buddha explains that he is truly eternal and omniscient and he then teaches the Parable of the Excellent Physician who entices his sons into taking his medicine by feigning his death. Chapter 17: Merits and Virtues of enlightenment - The Buddha explains that since he has been teaching as many beings as the sands of the Ganges have been saved. Chapter 18: Merits and Virtues of Joyful Acceptance - Faith in the teachings of the sutra brings much merit and lead to good rebirths. Chapter 19: Merits and Virtues obtained by a Teacher of the Dharma - The relative importance of the merits of the six senses are explained by the Buddha. Chapter 20: The Bodhisattva Sadaparibhuta - The Buddha tells a story about the time he was a Bodhisattva called Sadaparibhuta (Never Despising) and how he treated every person he met, good or bad, with respect, always remembering that they will too become Buddhas. Chapter 21: The Spiritual Power of the Tathagata - Reveals that the sutra contains all of the Eternal Buddha’s secret spiritual powers. The bodhisattvas who have sprung from the earth worship the sutra and promise to propagate it. +

Chapter 22: The Passing of the Commission - The Buddha transmits the Lotus sutra to his congregation and entrusts them with its safekeeping. Chapter 23: The Bodhisattva Bhai?ajyaraja - The Buddha tells the story of the 'Medicine king' Bodhisattva, the story focuses on the practices of self-sacrifice (including the burning of fingers) as well the diagnosis and healing of sickness. The hearing and chanting of the Lotus sutra is also said to cure diseases. The Buddha uses various metaphors to declare that the Lotus Sutra is the king of all sutras. Chapter 24: The Bodhisattva Gadgadasvara - The Bodhisattva "Wonderful Voice" appears to worship the Buddha and his story is told. Chapter 25: The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara - The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (Guanyin) whose name means 'listening to the cries of the world' makes an offering to the Buddha and the stupa. Chapter 26: Dharani - Several Bodhisattvas offer Dharanis in order to protect those who keep and recite the Lotus Sutra. Chapter 27: King Wonderfully Adorned - A chapter on the story of King 'Wonderful-Adornment'. Chapter 28: Encouragement of the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra - A bodhisattva called "Universal Virtue" asks the Buddha how to preserve the sutra in the future. Samantabhadra promises to protect and guard who those who keep this sutra in the future Age of Dharma Decline. +

Japanese emaki version of the Lotus Sutra

From the Lotus Sūtra: “The Daughter of the Dragon King”

The section of the Lotus Sūtra entitled “The Daughter of the Dragon King” addresses the question of the salvation of women. It reads: “Bodhisattva Wisdom Accumulated questioned Manjuśrī, saying, “This sūtra is very profound subtle, and wonderful, a treasure among sūtras, a rarity in the world. Are there perhaps any living beings who, by earnestly and diligently practicing this sūtra, have been able to attain Buddhahood quickly?” Manjuśrī replied, “There is the daughter of the dragon king Sāgara, who has just turned eight. [Source: “Sources of Chinese Tradition,” compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 453-454; Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]

“Her wisdom has keen roots, and she is good at understanding the root activities and deeds of living beings. She has mastered the dhāranīs, has been able to accept and embrace all the storehouse of profound secrets preached by the Buddhas, has entered deep into meditation thoroughly grasped the doctrines, and in the space of an instant conceived the desire for bodhi and reached the level of no regression. Her eloquence knows no hindrance, and she thinks of living beings with compassion as though they were her own children. She is fully endowed with blessings, and when it comes to conceiving in mind and expounding by mouth, she is subtle, wonderful, comprehensive, and great. Kind, compassionate, benevolent, yielding, she is gentle and refined in will, capable of attaining bodhi.” At that time Śāriputra said to the dragon girl, “You suppose that in this short time you have been able to attain the unsurpassed way. But this is difficult to believe. Why? Because a woman’s body is soiled and defiled, not a vessel for the Law. How could you attain the unsurpassed bodhi? The road to Buddhahood is long and far.stretching. Only after one has spent immeasurable kalpas pursuing austerities, accumulating deeds, practicing all kinds pāramitās, can one finally achieve success. Moreover, a woman is subject to the five obstacles.

“First, she cannot become a Brahma heavenly king. Second, she cannot become the king Śakra. Third, she cannot become a devil king. Fourth, she cannot become a wheel.turning sage king. Fifth, she cannot become a Buddha. How then could a woman like you be able to attain Buddhahood so quickly?” At that time the dragon girl had a precious jewel worth as much as the thousand-millionfold world, which she presented to the Buddha. The Buddha immediately accepted it. The dragon girl said to Bodhisattva Wisdom Accumulated and to the venerable one, Śāriputra, “I presented the precious jewel and the World.Honored One accepted it — was that not quickly done?” They replied, “Very quickly!” The girl said, “Employ your supernatural powers and watch me attain Buddhahood. It will be even quicker than that!” At that time the members of the assembly all saw the dragon girl in the space of an instant change into a man and carry out all the practices of a bodhisattva, immediately proceeding to the Spotless World of the south, taking a seat on a jeweled lotus, and attaining impartial and correct enlightenment. With the thirty-two features and the eighty characteristics, he expounded the wonderful Law for all living beings everywhere in the ten directions. …

emaki Lotus Sutra

From the Lotus Sutra: "The Buddha Preaches the One Great Vehicle"

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “The passage below, which describes the Buddha talking with one of his followers, Śāriputra, addresses the question of the multitude, of why there are so many schools of Buddhism. This is an issue that Mahāyāna scriptures had to address, since they were written relatively late in the history of Buddhism and had to compete for authority with earlier texts.” [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]

The section of the Lotus Sūtra entitled “The Buddha Preaches the One Great Vehicle” reads: “At that time Manjuśrī said to the bodhisattva and mahāsattva Maitreya and the other great men “Good men, I suppose that the Buddha, the World.Honored One, wishes now to expound the great Law.” At that time the World-Honored One calmly arose from his samādhi and addressed Śāriputra saying, “The wisdom of the Buddhas is infinitely profound and immeasurable. The door to this wisdom is difficult to understand and difficult to enter. “Śāriputra, ever since I attained Buddhahood I have through various causes and various similes widely expounded my teachings and have used countless expedient means to guide living beings and cause them to renounce their attachments. Why is this? Because the Thus.Come One is fully possessed of both expedient means and the perfection of wisdom. [Source: “Sources of Chinese Tradition,” compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 447-448; Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]

“Śāriputra, to sum it up: the Buddha has fully realized the Law that is limitless, boundless never attained before. “Śāriputra, the Buddhas preach the Law in accordance with what is appropriate, but the meaning is difficult to understand. Why is this? Because we employ countless expedient means discussing causes and conditions and using words of simile and parable to expound the teachings. This Law is not something that can be understood through pondering or analysis.

“Only those who are Buddhas can understand it. “Śāriputra, I know that living beings have various desires, attachments that are deeply implanted in their minds. Taking cognizance of this basic nature of theirs, I will therefore use various causes and conditions, words of simile and parable, and the power of expedient means and expound the Law for them. Śāriputra, I do this so that all of them may attain the one Buddha vehicle and wisdom embracing all species. “Śāriputra, if any of my disciples should claim to be an arhat or a pratyeka-buddha and yet does not heed or understand that the Buddhas, the Thus.Come Ones, simply teach and convert the bodhisattvas, then he is no disciple of mine; he is no arhat or pratyeka-buddha.

““Again, Śāriputra, if there should be monks or nuns who claim that they have already attained the status of arhat, that this is their last incarnation, that they have reached the final nirvā.a, and that therefore they have no further intention of seeking supreme perfect enlightenment, then you should understand that such as these are all persons of overbearing arrogance. Why do I say this? Because if there are monks who have truly attained the status of arhat, then it would be unthinkable that they should fail to believe this Law. … There is no other vehicle, there is only the one Buddha vehicle.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons,

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University; Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu ; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/; Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated September 2021

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