Lotus Sutra ［法華経］ ( Saddharma-pundarīka-sūtra; Chin Fa-hua-ching; Hoke-kyō): One of the Mahayana sutras. Several Sanskrit manuscripts are extant, and Sanskrit fragments have been discovered in Nepal, Kashmir, and Central Asia. There is also a Tibetan version. Six Chinese translations of the sutra were made, of which three are extant. They are (1) the Lotus Sutra of the Correct Law, in ten volumes and twenty-seven chapters, translated by Dharmaraksha in 286; (2) the Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law, in eight volumes and twenty-eight chapters, translated by Kumārajīva in 406; and (3) the Supplemented Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law, in seven volumes and twenty-seven chapters, translated by Jnānagupta and Dharmagupta in 601. Among these, Kumārajīva’s Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law has known the greatest popularity. Therefore, in China and Japan, the name Lotus Sutra usually indicates the Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law (Chin Miao-fa-lien-hua-ching; Myoho-renge-kyo).
In India, Nāgārjuna (c. 150–250) often cited the Lotus Sutra in his Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom, and Vasubandhu wrote a commentary on the Lotus Sutra known as The Treatise on the Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law. In China, Kumārajīva’s Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law exerted a great influence and was widely read. Many scholars, including Fa-yün (467–529), wrote commentaries on it. T’ien-t’ai (538–597), in The Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra, formulated a system of classification of the entire body of Buddhist sutras called the “five periods and eight teachings,” which ranks the Lotus Sutra above all the other sutras. His lectures on the sutra’s text are compiled as The Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra, and on his method of practice as Great Concentration and Insight. These two works and Profound Meaning are the records of T’ien-t’ai’s lectures compiled by his disciple Chang-an and are together known as T’ien-t’ai’s three major works.
In Japan, Prince Shōtoku (574–622) designated the Lotus, Shrīmālā, and Vimalakīrti sutras as the three sutras that could protect the country, and he wrote commentaries on each of them. After that, the Lotus Sutra gained wide acceptance in Japan. Emperor Shōmu (701–756) built provincial temples for priests and nuns throughout the country. In the temples for nuns, the Lotus Sutra was honored above all other sutras for its teaching that women can attain Buddhahood. Dengyō (767–822) established the Tendai (Chin T’ien-t’ai) school, which was based on the Lotus Sutra and became one of the major Buddhist schools in Japan. Nichiren (1222–1282) also upheld the Lotus Sutra, which describes all living beings as potential Buddhas, and identified its essence as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, spreading this teaching. In his later years he lectured on the Lotus Sutra, and his lectures were compiled by his disciples, by Nikkō as The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings and by Nikō as The Recorded Lectures. See also Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law.