The present volume offers an English translation of the Lotus Sutra, and of two short sutras, the Immeasurable Meanings Sutra and the Sutra on How to Practice Meditation on Bodhisattva Universal Worthy, that have traditionally been regarded as the opening and closing sutras for the Lotus. The Lotus Sutra translation, done by Burton Watson, renowned translator of many works of classical Chinese and Japanese literature, was originally published in 1993 by Columbia University Press. It appears here in slightly revised form. The translations of other two accompanying sutras, also by Burton Watson, appear here for the first time.
All the translations conform to the Chinese texts of these sutras as they appear in Myōhō-renge-kyō narabini kaiketsu (The Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law and Its Opening and Closing Sutras), published in 2002 by the Soka Gakkai. Tiantai (538–597), or Zhiyi, founder of the Tiantai school of Buddhism in China, considered the three sutras a single unit, thus establishing the tradition in which they have been called over the centuries “the threefold Lotus Sutra.” Nichiren (1222–1282), the Japanese Buddhist scholar-monk whose teachings the Soka Gakkai practices, also held this view. The Myōhō-renge-kyō narabini kaiketsu is based upon the texts of the three sutras that Nichiren used to instruct his disciples and write his own works. Called the Chū Hokekyō, or the Annotated Lotus Sutra, it includes related passages from the works of Tiantai and other scholar-monks that Nichiren noted down for his own reference.
With regard to the two short sutras, a few remarks may be in order.
According to Chinese records,1 the Immeasurable Meanings Sutra was translated into Chinese in 481 by Dharmagathayashas, a monk from central India. We have no knowledge of what language Dharmagathayashas translated the sutra from, and some scholars now suggest that it may actually have been first composed in Chinese.
The sutra, made up of three chapters, describes Shakyamuni Buddha preaching on Eagle Peak. Chapter one, entitled “Virtuous Practices,” praises the Buddha and his various characteristics. Chapter two, “Preaching the Law,” explains that all the teachings and their immeasurable meanings derive from a single Law, and that those teachings preached during the first forty years and more of the Buddha’s teaching life do not reveal the truth. Chapter three, “Ten Benefits,” describes the benefits that practitioners of the sutra will gain.
The Immeasurable Meanings Sutra clearly states what the Buddha said about his earlier teachings. “In these more than forty years, I have not yet revealed the truth. Therefore the ways they [living beings] gained were not uniform but differed in different cases, and they have not been able to quickly attain unsurpassed enlightenment.” The Lotus Sutra similarly states: “The world-honored one has long expounded his doctrines and now must reveal the truth.” These passages are jointly taken to mean that the Immeasurable Meanings Sutra is preparing the way for the preaching of the Lotus and that in the Lotus the Buddha will reveal the truth for the first time.
The Immeasurable Meanings Sutra also explains why the Buddha preached different teachings before revealing the truth. It says, “Because such natures and desires [of living beings] are immeasurable in variety, the ways of preaching the Law are immeasurable; and because the ways of preaching the Law are immeasurable, its meanings are likewise immeasurable. These immeasurable meanings are born from a single Law, and this Law is without aspect. What is without aspect is devoid of aspect and does not take on aspect. Not taking on aspect, being without aspect, it is called the true aspect.” In another link between the two sutras, this “true aspect” is fully set forth as “the true aspect of all phenomena” in the Lotus.
Nichiren, who further clarifies “the immeasurable meanings” as also signifying “the three vehicles,” cites the following Lotus passage in explanation: “The Buddhas, utilizing the power of expedient means, apply distinctions to the one buddha vehicle and preach as though it were three.” Nichiren states that the three vehicles, or immeasurable meanings, are preached to lead the way to the revelation in the Lotus of the one vehicle teaching, and he concludes, “Thus the Immeasurable Meanings Sutra serves as preparation for the Lotus Sutra” (The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, Tokyo, Soka Gakkai, 2004).
The Universal Worthy Sutra, according to Chinese records,2 was translated into Chinese in the early fifth century by Dharmamitra, an Indian monk. The sutra begins with this passage predicting the passing of Shakyamuni Buddha: “At one time, when the Buddha was in the double-storied hall at the Great Forest Monastery in Vaishali, he announced to the monks, ‘Three months from now I will enter parinirvana.’” Because of this announcement, and because the central figure of this sutra, Bodhisattva Universal Worthy, is also the central figure of the final chapter of the Lotus Sutra (chapter twenty-eight, Encouragements of the Bodhisattva Universal Worthy), the sutra is viewed as naturally following the Lotus.
The sutra can be divided into three sections of preparation, revelation, and transmission. The preparatory section presents a question posed by Ananda, one of the Buddha’s major disciples, and others: “How, without cutting off earthly desires or separating themselves from the five desires, can they [living beings] purify their senses and wipe away their offenses?” The revelation section offers the answer, which may be summarized in the following verse passage:
If one wishes to carry out repentance,
sit upright and ponder the true aspect.
Then the host of sins, like frost or dew,
can be wiped out by the sun of wisdom.
The sutra explains that when one ponders “the true aspect” that is revealed in the Lotus Sutra, one is able to purify one’s six senses, see Bodhisattva Universal Worthy, and attain the buddha body.
The transmission section offers these words of Shakyamuni Buddha: “In future ages, if there are people who practice and carry out the method of repentance as it has been described, . . . before long they will succeed in attaining supreme perfect enlightenment.” It also says, “And because he recites and studies the great vehicle broad and impartial sutra, immediately in a dream he will see Shakyamuni Buddha and the members of the great assembly on Mount Gridhrakuta [Eagle Peak], the Buddha preaching the Lotus Sutra and expounding the principle of the single truth.” It further refers to the emanations of Shakyamuni Buddha as preaching “the wonderful Law” as set forth in the Lotus. Because of such passages as these, which further reinforce the message of the Lotus, the Universal Worthy Sutra has long been regarded as the concluding or closing sutra to the Lotus.
Thus we have presented these three sutras together in the form of opening, main, and closing sutras.
Soka Gakkai Publications Committee
January 26, 2009