Japanese Lotus Sutra


The Lotus Sūtra, known in Sanskrit as Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra or ‘Sūtra of the Lotus of the Wonderful Law,’ is one of the most influential scriptures of Mahāyāna Buddhism in East Asia.

Why is the Lotus Sutra important?

Historically the Lotus Sūtra was translated from Sanskrit into Chinese six times. Of these it was the translation by Kumārajīva (343–413), a monk from the Central Asian Kingdom of Kucha, completed in 406 and titled Miao-fa-lian-hua-jing (in Japanese Myōhō-renge-kyō), that was most influential in spreading the sutra’s teachings in East Asia.

The Lotus Sūtra is seen by many of its adherents as the summation of the Buddha’s teachings. Among its key doctrines are: that there is only one vehicle or path to salvation – the path to Buddhahood; that all sentient beings can attain salvation in their present existence by following its teachings; and that the Buddha is an eternal being, ever-present and concerned for the salvation of all beings. In Japan the Lotus Sūtra has long been one of the most popular scriptures and is of particular significance for the Tendai and Nichiren schools of Buddhism.

What is the significance of this particular manuscript?

This lavishly decorated scroll, written in gold and silver ink on indigo-dyed paper, contains Chapter 8 of the Lotus Sūtra (‘The Prophecy of Enlightenment for Five Hundred Disciples’). The upper section of the frontispiece shows the Buddha granting promises of Buddhahood to his disciples; below are scenes from the parable of a man who leads a life of poverty and hardship, unaware that many years before a friend had sewn a priceless jewel into his robe, an allusion to the teachings of the Buddha. The manuscript was created in 1636 and is thought to be part of a set twenty-eight scrolls presented by Emperor Go-Mizunoo (1596–1680) to the Tōshōgū Shrine in Nikkō, the mausoleum of the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542–1616).

Full title:
Myōhō-renge-kyō 妙法蓮華経
c. 1636, Japan
Scroll / Manuscript
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Or 13926

Related articles

The Buddha and Buddhist sacred texts

Article by:
Peter Harvey
Buddhism, Sacred texts

Professor Peter Harvey recounts the life and teachings of the Buddha, as well as considering the role that the Buddha plays in the different branches of Buddhism and how his teachings have been collected.

The development of the Buddhist 'canon'

Article by:
T H Barrett
Buddhism, Sacred texts

The Buddhist ‘canon’ is vast, complex and difficult to define. Here Professor Tim Barrett outlines some of the key works for the different branches of Buddhism.

Illuminated Buddhist Manuscripts

Article by:
Ms Jana Igunma, San San May, Burkhard Quessel
Buddhism, Illuminated texts

British Library curators Melodie Doumy, Jana Igunma, San San May and Burkhard Quessel explore some of the illuminated and illustrated Buddhist manuscripts in the Library's collection.

Related collection items