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).