- LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
- LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2022
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0093
- LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
- LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2022
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0093
Sections of the Lotus Sutra are among the earliest Indian Mahayana writings. Originally composed in Sanskrit, the sutra seemingly had little lasting effect in Tibet, although a Tibetan translation exists. But this scripture arguably became the most influential in East Asia. Although still-extant translations into Chinese were done by Dharmarakṣa in 286 and Jñañagupta and Dharmagupta in 601, the most popular historically was the translation of Kumārajīva from 406, source for all the English translations from Chinese. Literally the “Wondrous Dharma Lotus Blossom Sutra,” the Lotus Sutra’s many memorable parables, including children lured out of a burning house and a prodigal son rehabilitated by manual labor, illustrate key ideas of the sutra, especially that all spiritual approaches may serve as beneficial skillful means within the inclusive “One Vehicle” of universal liberation. A curiously self-referential text, central and influential Lotus Sutra images include the following: Śākaymuni Buddha’s prediction of many of his disciples’ future buddhahood, appearance in midair of the stūpa of an ancient buddha who arrives whenever the Lotus Sutra is being taught, a dragon king’s young daughter quickly arriving at enlightenment, ancient bodhisattvas bursting out from under the earth to teach the sutra in the future, and the pivotal revelation of Buddha’s inconceivably long lifespan. This sutra is considered the highest teaching for the inclusive Chinese Tiantai school, whose founder Zhiyi developed a synthesizing system for all the diversity of Buddhist teachings. Tiantai was adapted in Japan as the Tendai school, from which came the founders of the Japanese Zen, Pure Land, and Nichiren schools. The Nichiren school takes the Lotus Sutra itself as its sole object of veneration, including sometimes adamantly disapproving of other Buddhist approaches. New Religious movements inspired by the Lotus Sutra in Japan have become transnational.
Skillful means, important issues related to Śākyamuni Buddha’s inconceivable lifespan, and issues concerning body and gender are addressed under separate headings. Many other issues regarding the central ideas presented in the Lotus Sutra are raised in the following sources. Tsukamoto 2007 is a detailed study of many Lotus Sutra themes, including predictions, parables, and relationships to cult practices. This is a revised translation of a 1986 collection of the author’s works, presented with additional writings by Tsukamoto. Reeves 2002 is a wide-ranging anthology presenting discussions of many issues as informed by the Lotus Sutra, including its innumerable meanings, somatic realization, relation to temporality, and contemporary relevance. Shioiri 1989 presents a helpful analysis of the sutra’s significant literary structure, including informative discussions with helpful charts connecting the sutra’s formation with various Chinese theories of its structure. Essays in Teiser and Stone 2009 treat many aspects of the sutra, and especially its practice. Articles address controversial issues in the sutra such as the role of gender and hierarchy and the practice of self-immolation, as well as popular practices and artistic expressions inspired by the sutras. Lopez 2016 unfolds the rich and varied life of the Lotus Sutra from India to China and Japan, and in recent times across the globe. Tamura 1989 and Williams 1989 present surveys of key Lotus Sutra ideas and images. Niwano 1976 and Sugurō 1998 present accessible, Nichiren-influenced commentaries on the sutra and its implications, both including the opening and closing sutras. Reeves 2010 reflects on the numerous and highly impactful narratives and parables of the Lotus Sutra. Hanh 2003 offers an accessible approach, unfolding the “historical” and “ultimate” dimensions of the Lotus Sutra in relation to mindfulness practice and engaged Buddhism.
Hanh, Thich Nhat. Opening the Heart of the Cosmos: Insights on the Lotus Sutra. Berkeley, CA: Paralax, 2003.
This commentary by peace activist and Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh offers chapter-by-chapter reflections on the teachings and events depicted in the Lotus Sutra (reprinted in 2005 under the title Peaceful Action, Open Heart: Lessons from the Lotus Sutra [Berkeley, CA: Paralax]).
Lopez, Donald S. The Lotus Sūtra: A Biography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016.
Follows the Lotus Sutra as its role evolves across time and geography.
Niwano, Nikkyō. Buddhism for Today: A Modern Interpretation of the Threefold Lotus Sutra. New York: Weatherhill, 1976.
An explication of the sutra chapters by the founder of the Lotus Sutra–based lay movement Risshō Kōsei-kai, one of the Nichiren influenced New Religious movements.
Reeves, Gene. The Stories of the Lotus Sutra. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2010.
This work focuses on what is carried in the rich narrative dimensions of the Lotus Sutra.
Reeves, Gene, ed. A Buddhist Kaleidoscope: Essays on the Lotus Sutra. Tokyo: Kōsei, 2002.
A rich anthology of essays by respected scholars considering many aspects of the sutra, such as its innumerable meanings, somatic realization, relation to temporality, comparisons to Kenji Miyazawa and Leo Tolstoy, and contemporary relevance to interreligious dialogue, ecological crisis, health-care ethics, and gender justice.
Shioiri, Ryōdō. “The Meaning of the Formation and Structure of the Lotus Sutra.” In The Lotus Sutra in Japanese Culture. Edited by George J. Tanabe Jr., and Willa Jane Tanabe, 15–36. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1989.
Reflects on aspects of the Lotus Sutra in Japanese culture and also connects the sutra’s formation with Chinese theories of its structure. Especially significant is Tiantai founder Zhiyi’s highly influential division of the sutra’s first and second half as, respectively, the practice or secondary aspect and the fruit of practice or primary gate.
Sugurō, Shinjō. Introduction to the Lotus Sutra. Fremont, CA: Jain Publishing, 1998.
A helpful chapter-by-chapter analysis of the sutra by a Nichiren-shu priest, with revisions by Daniel Montgomery.
Tamura, Yoshirō. “The Ideas of the Lotus Sutra.” In The Lotus Sutra in Japanese Culture. Edited by George J. Tanabe Jr., and Willa Jane Tanabe, 37–51. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1989.
Surveys fundamental ideas in the Lotus Sutra, especially as they relate to other Mahayana sutras and teachings. This article discusses the role of faith and, more than most treatments of the Lotus Sutra, its relationship to emptiness thought.
Teiser, Stephen F., and Jacqueline I. Stone, eds. Readings of the Lotus Sutra. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.
Presents a range of essays dealing with aspects of the sutra, ranging over philosophical and practice issues in China and Japan.
Tsukamoto, Keishō. Source Elements of the Lotus Sutra: Buddhist Integration of Religion, Thought, and Culture. Tokyo: Kōsei, 2007.
This detailed study includes considerations of religious unity in the Mahayana, the concept of prediction related to the sutra’s many predictions of buddhahood, the role of parables, and the sutra’s relation to cultic activity, including for Avalokiteśvara and Amitābha’s Pure Land.
Williams, Paul. Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. London and New York: Routledge, 1989.
This highly useful survey of Mahayana philosophy includes a chapter on the Lotus Sutra with discussion of many of its aspects, as well as its later expressions in East Asia.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
- Abe, Masao
- Abhidharma/Abhidhamma Literature
- Abhijñā/Ṛddhi (Extraordinary Knowledge and Powers)
- Abortion, Buddhism and
- Ajanta Caves
- Ambedkar Buddhism
- Ancient Indian Society
- Archaeology of Early Buddhism
- Art and Architecture In China, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in India, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Japan, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Nepal, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Tibet, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture on the "Silk Road," Buddhist
- Asceticism, Buddhism and
- Avataṃsaka Sutra
- Awakening of Faith
- Beats, Buddhism and the
- Bhāviveka / Bhāvaviveka
- Bodh Gaya
- Body, Buddhism and the
- Buddha, Three Bodies of the (Trikāya)
- Buddhism and Black Embodiment
- Buddhism and Ethics
- Buddhism and Hinduism
- Buddhism and Kingship
- Buddhism and Law
- Buddhism and Marxism
- Buddhism and Medicine in Japan
- Buddhism and Modern Literature
- Buddhism and Motherhood
- Buddhism and Nationalism
- Buddhism and Orientalism
- Buddhism and Politics
- Buddhism, Immigrants, and Refugees
- Buddhism in Australia
- Buddhism in Latin America
- Buddhism in Taiwan
- Buddhist Art and Architecture in Korea
- Buddhist Art and Architecture in Sri Lanka and Southeast A...
- Buddhist Hermeneutics
- Buddhist Interreligious and Intrareligious Dialogue
- Buddhist Ordination
- Buddhist Statecraft
- Buddhist Theories of Causality (karma, pratītyasamutpāda, ...
- Buddhist Thought and Western Philosophy
- Buddhist Thought, Embryology in
- Buddhist-Christian Dialogue
- Cambodian Buddhism
- Canon, History of the Buddhist
- Caste, Buddhism and
- Central Asia, Buddhism in
- China, Esoteric Buddhism in, (Zhenyan and Mijiao)
- China, Pilgrimage in
- Chinese Buddhist Publishing and Print Culture, 1900-1950
- Colonialism and Postcolonialism
- Compassion (karuṇā)
- Cosmology, Astronomy and Astrology
- Culture, Material
- D. T. Suzuki
- Dalai Lama
- Demons and the Demonic in Buddhism
- Digitization of Buddhism (Digital Humanities and Buddhist ...
- Dignāga and Dharmakīrti, The Philosophical Works and Influ...
- Dizang (Jizō, Ksitigarbha)
- Drigung Kagyu (’Bri gung bKa’ brgyud)
- Dzogchen (rDzogs chen)
- Early Buddhist Philosophy (Abhidharma/Abhidhamma)
- Early Modern European Encounters with Buddhism
- East Asia, Mountain Buddhism in
- East Asian Buddhist Art, Portraiture in
- Ellora Caves
- Emptiness (Śūnyatā)
- Environment, Buddhism and the
- Ethics of Violence, Buddhist
- Family, Buddhism and the
- Feminist Approaches to the Study of Buddhism
- Four Noble Truths
- Funeral Practices
- Āgamas, Chinese
- Gandharan Art
- Gandhāra, Buddhism in
- Gelugpa (dGe lugs pa)
- Gender, Buddhism and
- Gotama, the Historical Buddha
- Hakuin Ekaku
- History of Buddhisms in China
- Image Consecrations
- India, Buddhism in
- India, Mahāmudrā in
- Internationalism, Buddhism and
- Intersections Between Buddhism and Hinduism in Thailand
- Iranian World, Buddhism in the
- Islam, Buddhism and
- Japan, Buddhism in
- Korea, Buddhism in
- Kyōgyōshinshō (Shinran)
- Laos, Buddhism in
- Linji and the Linjilu
- Literature, Chan
- Literature, Tantric
- Local Religion, Buddhism as
- Lotus Sūtra
- Mahayana, Early
- Mahāvairocana Sūtra/Tantra
- Malaysia, Buddhism in
- Mantras and Dhāraṇīs
- Merit Transfer
- Miracles, Buddhist
- Modern Japanese Buddhist Philosophy
- Modernism, Buddhist
- Monasticism in East Asia
- Mongolia, Buddhism in
- Mongolia, Buddhist Art and Architecture in
- Mārga (Path)
- Music, and Buddhism
- Myanmar, Buddhism in
- New Medias, Buddhism in
- New Religions in Japan (Shinshūkyō), Buddhism and
- Śāntideva (Bodhicaryāvatāra)
- Nuns, Lives, and Rules
- Oral and Literate Traditions
- Pagan (Bagan)
- Perfection of Wisdom
- Perfections (Six and Ten)
- Philosophy, Chinese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Indian Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Japanese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Tibetan Buddhist
- Pilgrimage in India
- Pilgrimage in Japan
- Pilgrimage in Tibet
- Preaching/Teaching in Buddhism Studies
- Psychology and Psychotherapy, Buddhism in
- Pure Land Buddhism
- Pure Land Sūtras
- Religious Tourism, Buddhism and
- Saṃsāra and Rebirth
- Secularization of Buddhism
- Self, Non-Self, and Personal Identity
- Sexuality and Buddhsim
- Shinto, Buddhism and
- Soka Gakkai
- South and Southeast Asia, Devatās, Nats, And Phii In
- Southeast Asia, Buddhism in
- Sri Lanka, Monasticism in
- Sōtō Zen (Japan)
- Stūpa Pagoda Caitya
- Suffering (Dukkha)
- Sugata Saurabha
- Sutta (Pāli/Theravada Canon)
- Texts, Dunhuang
- Thai Buddhism
- Thích Nhất Hạnh
- Three Turnings of the Wheel of Doctrine (Dharma-Cakra)
- Tibet, Buddhism in
- Tibet, Mahāmudrā in
- Tibetan Book of the Dead
- Tri Songdetsen
- Uighur Buddhism
- Verse Literature, Tibetan Buddhist
- Vidyādhara (weikza/weizzā)
- Vietnam, Buddhism in
- Vision and Visualization
- Visualization/Contemplation Sutras
- Visuddhimagga (Buddhaghosa)
- Warrior Monk Traditions
- West (North America and Europe), Buddhism in the
- Wheel of Life (Bhava-Cakra)
- Women in Buddhism
- Women in the West, Prominent Buddhist
- Zen, Premodern Japanese