Teet Toome (University of Tartu, Estonia) “The Structure of the Lotus Sūtra”


The structure or the composition of the Lotus Sūtra (saddharmapuṇḍarīka sūtra) can be approached in different ways. First it can be shown how the text of the sūtra is composed in the course of time. Here we can say that the Lotus Sūtra is quite clearly divided into several thematic parts that most probably also have different origins. The first part (Chapters 1 to 9) is dedicated to one of the two main themes of the sūtra, the explanation of the theory of ’one vehicle’, and is mostly addressed to the śrāvakas. The second part of the sūtra (Chapters 10 to 20) forms a second thematic core, focused around Chapter 15 on Buddha’s life and its duration. The characters in this part are mostly bodhisattvas and the message of the text is also addressed to them. The first two parts share the idea of the doctrine of skill in means. The third part of the sūtra (Chapters 21 to 27) is not a thematic whole but consists of the stories of different bodhisattvas that are directly related to the prior themes of the sūtra.

Thus, we can say that the sutra has three larger units. The third unit is quite diverse and has no centre; the second one has a clear central chapter that is Chapter 15; and for the first unit the generating core is probably Chapter 1, which is obviously also most crucial for the whole sūtra. This paper will describe the structural elements of the first chapter of the Lotus Sūtra and attempt to find its links with other parts of the sūtra.