Lotus Sutra Project







Lotus Sutra: Literary Features as Teaching Tools

Project Team: Samuel Suzuki and Shipra Kumar

The Lotus Sutra is one of the most important texts in Mahayana Buddhism. It is the basis for the Chinese Tiantai (and as a result the Japanese Tendai) and the Japanese Nichiren sects of Buddhism, and also serves a foundational text for many other sects. It introduced new concepts into Buddhism that have become crucial to Buddhist thought. This sutra has significance for hundreds of millions of followers, and in many cases is a guiding force in their lives.

This project focuses on the literary features of the text, potentially a model of Buddhist literature, that allow it to attain such a following. One aspect of this is that the text frequently affirms its high stature in Buddhist doctrine. An example of this occurs in Chapter 14: “Among the sutras, it holds the highest place.”

Another facet of its staying power is in its ability as a teaching tool, where it simultaneously supports and helps propagate its faith. Much of this power comes from the unconventional literary features it utilizes. These consist of paradoxes, references to holy figures, extensive repetition, hyperbole, frequent use of numbers, and parables.

While all of this may seem strange and counterintuitive to teaching, it is the very fact that it is strange that makes it useful, because it is intended to get one to think in different ways than it is accustomed. We also examine the differing uses of prose and verse in order to explain different ideas. Understanding these features will give insight to the power of language over people and the thinking culture behind the large demographic of Mahayana Buddhists.

In our project, we study the way in which the Lotus Sutra is an effective teaching tool through the the use of repetition, hyperbole, use of numbers, and holy references (in a potential future update we could cover paradox and parable) and why its idiosyncracies captivate millions.