The “Lotus Sutra,” as it is generally known in the West, is one of the most important of all the Mahayana sutras, and especially in Japan, where it is popularly known as the Ho-ke-kyou, it has been held in high regard ever since Prince Shoutoku included a commentary on it in his set of commentaries on three Mahayana sutras (San-gyou-gi-sho).
It is a work of great literary merit, including as it does many sections of verse and various parables, but at the same time it has earned a lasting place in the history of Buddhism owing to the superior quality of its philosophical content. The concept of ‘One Vehicle’ especially, which permeates the whole work, has had immeasurable influence upon Japanese Buddhism.
It is divided into 28 chapters, of which Chapter 16, ‘The Life Span of the Tathagatayuspramana-parivarta XV), is especially important for its eulogy of sakyamuni as the embodiment of the eternal life and as having attained enlightenment in the inconceivably remote past. Among the numerous parables those of the three carts and the burning house, the wealthy man and his poor son, the three kinds of medicinal herbs and two kinds of trees, and the phantom city and the treasure land are especially famous. In addition Chapter 25, ‘The Universal Gate of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara’ (Skt.: Samantamukha-parivarta XXIV), which describes the blessings of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, was circulated in China and Japan as an independent sutra and is still recited today. It is also a well-known fact that the chant, or daimoku, of the Nichiren School of Japan and related sects consists of the invocation na-mu added to the Japanese title of this sutra, resulting in Na-mu-myou-hou-ren-ge-kyou.
About the Author
The BDK English Tripitaka Series was started by the late Dr. Rev. Yehan Numata, founder of the Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai (BDK) [Society for the Promotion of Buddhism.] The goal of this series is to make available in the English language the Buddhist scriptures and commentaries of the Sino-Japanese edition of the “Taisho Tripitaka.” Scholars and specialists from throughout the world have been enlisted to translate the selected texts into English. When completed, the one-hundred eight volumes will comprise the First Series of the BDK English Tripitaka.