“Distinctions in Benefits” chapter ［分別功徳品］ ( Fumbetsu-kudoku-hon): The seventeenth chapter of the Lotus Sutra. In the “Life Span” (sixteenth) chapter, Shakyamuni Buddha tells of the inconceivable length of time that has passed since his original attainment of enlightenment, and the subsequent chapter, “Distinctions in Benefits,” says that all who heard the Buddha’s preaching concerning his original enlightenment, specifically, concerning his boundless life span as a Buddha, have gained incalculable benefit. The benefits they gained differ among them in terms of profundity, however; hence the chapter’s title. The chapter begins by revealing various kinds of enlightenment and benefit that have been obtained by those listening to the Buddha preach on his boundless life span.
When the entire Lotus Sutra is analyzed according to the three divisions known as preparation, revelation, and transmission, the teaching of revelation constitutes the main part, beginning with the “Expedient Means” (second) chapter and ending with the first half of the “Distinctions in Benefits” chapter; the teaching of transmission—that of encouraging the future propagation of the Lotus Sutra—begins with the second half of the “Distinctions in Benefits” chapter. This latter half of the chapter expounds the unfathomable benefits of embracing and practicing the sutra after the Buddha’s death. On the basis of this content, T’ien-t’ai (538–597) formulated the concept of four stages of faith and five stages of practice explained in The Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra.