A Song Dynasty Woodblock Print of Lotus Sutra 妙法蓮華經 (Miaofa lianhua jing)

Dated (1022-1063)

The official name for this sutra is the Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma, but most people just call it the Lotus Sutra (Hokkekyo in Japanese).

The Lotus Sutra was preached by Shakyamuni Buddha in the eight years before he entered Nirvana. It is the Buddha's ultimate teaching i.e. the most final Dharma, containing his final revelation on the universality of salvation, the true nature of Buddhahood, and the best and universally applicable means of attaining Buddhahood.

In Buddhism, the lotus flower is considered to be a holy flower because it grows up pure and white from even the muddiest swamp. Lotuses are flowers that grow in large swamps or marshes and look very much like water lilies. They have large roots with holes in them that can be eaten as a delicious, crunchy vegetable. While lotus patterns have become symbols of Buddhism, the holiness of the lotus pond and the sight of lotuses blooming on the surface of the water have come to symbolize the Buddha's "Pure Land," or heaven.

the Lotus Sutra is an amazing scripture. It tells us how profound and infinite the Buddha's wisdom is--that enlightenment is not something that can be grasped as an intellectual concept, that it cannot be fully expressed in words. While praising the Buddha's wisdom in this way, it also declares that the purpose of the Buddha's appearance in the world is to make this ineffable wisdom accessible to all beings and enable them to attain enlightenment. The Lotus Sutra also emphasizes that it is expounded for this reason, and that all who hear it will attain Buddhahood without fail. The sutra states again and again that, even after the Buddha's death, a person who hears the Lotus Sutra and commits so much as a single phrase or verse to memory will, without fail, attain Buddhahood."

The Lotus Sutra was first translated into Chinese in the 3rd century AD. In the 6th century the Chinese monk Zhiyi founded a monastery on Mount Tiantai where he taught his comprehensive interpretation of the sutra. He organized all existing Theravada and Mahayana sutras into a five-part scheme, comprising the various levels of teaching revealed by the Buddha and culminating in the Lotus Sutra, the supreme synthesis of Buddhist doctrine. Tendai thus became proverbially broad, able to absorb and give rise to other movements within Buddhism. It also took up a principle of threefold truth derived from Nagarjuna: (1) all things are void and without essential reality; (2) all things have a provisional reality; (3) all things are both absolutely unreal and provisionally real at once. The transient world of phenomena is thus seen as one with the unchanging, undifferentiated ground of existence. This doctrine was elaborated in a complex cosmology of 3,000 interpenetrating realms of existence.

This copy of the Lotus Sutra was based on a translation by a monk in Eastern Jin Dynasty of China (東晉) (A.D. 317-420). It was printed for Song Ren Zong (宋仁宗 , a Northern Song Dynasty Emporer) era (10221063 by woodblock printing method. Block printing started in China in the 7th c., but no examples survived. The oldest surviving printing was found in 1966 in a stupa in the Buddhist temple Pulguk-sa, Kyongju, Korea. This is almost 700 years before Gutenberg re-invented printing in Europe around 1450.

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