History of The Lotus Sutra transmitted by many foregoer overcome many difficulties and preserve


The transmission of Buddhism was not something that happened as a matter of course. The Buddhist teachings were protected and spread by numerous practitioners who overcame various hardships, sometimes even at the cost of their lives. This section features events and persons relating to the transmission of Buddhism and the Lotus Sutra, from Shakyamuni Buddha to Nichiren.


From the Western Regions to China

Born in an oasis city along the Silk Road
Kumarajiva (344–413 or 350–409 CE) was born to Kumarayana, a nobleman of India, and Jivaka, a younger sister of the king of Kucha, one of the 36 kingdoms of the Western Regions.
Travels to India with his mother to study
At the age of seven, Kumarajiva entered the monastic life, following his mother. He was called a child prodigy. When he was nine, his mother took him to India and other countries to study, traveling over the Pamirs. He first studied abhidharma, or commentaries on the sutras of the Sarvastivada school, and later acquired an extensive knowledge about Mahayana teachings.
Chinese versions of the Lotus Sutra (Kumarajiva’s version)
Manuscript of the Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law copied in the 10th century CE (Collection of the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts, Russian Academy of Sciences)

Among these translations, Kumarajiva’s Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law was praised as “the best that ever was and the best that ever will be.”

① Zheng fahua jing 正法華經 (Lotus Sutra of the Correct Law), 286 CE, trans. by Dharmaraksha
② Miaofa lianhua jing 妙法蓮華經 (Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law), 406 CE, trans. by Kumarajiva
③ Tianpin Miaofa lianhua jing 添品妙法蓮華經 (Supplemented Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law), 601 CE, trans. by Jnanagupta and Dharmagupta

He rendered difficult concepts of Mahayana Buddhism, which had been unfamiliar to the Chinese people, into lucid and elegant writing with literary excellence.

18 years of captivity
Fu Jian, ruler of the Former Qin dynasty (351–394), ordered General Lü Guang and his 70,000-soldier army to invade Kucha and to bring Kumarajiva to Chang’an, the capital. The general took him prisoner but on the way back in Liangzhou learned of the fall of the Former Qin. With nowhere to return to, Lü Guang founded the Later Liang state in Liangzhou and kept Kumarajiva captive there for 18 years. While enduring hardships, Kumarajiva acquired voluminous knowledge about the Chinese language, literature and philosophy.
Rendering the immortal Chinese translation of the Lotus Sutra
In 401, Yao Xing, the king of the Later Qin (384–417), conquered the Later Liang and took Kumarajiva back to Chang’an. There, immersing himself in the translation of Buddhist scriptures, he translated 35 works in 294 volumes in close to 10 years, including the Miaofa lianhua jing 妙法蓮華經 (Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law). According to one account, he declared in his will, “If there has been no error in my translations, then when my body is cremated, my tongue will not be consumed by the flames. If it is burnt, throw away my works.” In 413, he passed away and his tongue was found undamaged by the flames.
Fostering numerous disciples through translation endeavors
While carrying out translation work, Kumarajiva assembled some 500 monks and often gave lectures on and answered questions about his translation endeavors. He spoke clearly on his choice of words and clarified the profound meaning of the texts. As time passed, the audience at these lectures would grow to 2,000, even 3,000 people. They succeeded to Kumarajiva’s achievements and spread the sutras and scriptures he translated throughout China.