Hokke-kyo Sutra (法華経)

Hokke-kyo (Hokke-kyo Sutra) is a collective term for the Mahayana Buddhism sutra, 'saddharmapundariika-suutra ('a white lotus flower as right teaching)' in Chinese translation.
When the character '経' is excluded, '法華' remains, which is generally pronounced 'Hokke.'

The meanings of 'saddharmapundariika-suutra' are as follows: sad means 'right,' 'strange' and 'good'; dharma means 'teaching' and 'truth'; pundarika means '因果倶時 and pure white lotus'; and suutra means 'a sutra that Buddha preached.'

It is said that there were 16 kinds of translations to Chinese for this sutra, but currently the following three translations remain complete: "the Lotus Sutra" (translated by Hogo JIKU, Zhu Fahua in the second century), ""(translated by Kumaraju in the fifth century), "添品妙法蓮華経"(translated by Jnana-gupta and Dharmagupta in the seventh century).
In the countries where Buddhism sutras were translated into Chinese, "Myohorenge-kyo" (translated by Kumaraju) was considered to be 'the best translation' and was used as the essential sutra for Tendai sects and many other sects, so that the name 'Hokke-kyo sutra' is in some cases used as an abbreviation for 'Myohorenge-kyo.'

Moreover, Kanzeon Bosatsu Fumonhon No. 25 of "Myohorenge-kyo," as translated by Kumaraju, has become widespread as the Kannon-gyo sutra.


Hokke-kyo sutra consists of 28 chapters. According to Chigi's teachings (Tendai Daishi), which are widely used at present, the first 14 chapters are called Shakumon (the Trace Gate) and the last 14 chapters are called Honmon (the Source Gate). Shakumon describes that Buddha appeared as a tentative figure in this world in order to teach people, and Honmon describes that Shakamuni did not become Buddha under the lime tree for the first time but had been Buddha since ancient times. Shakumon was compared to the moon reflected on the water, and Honmon was compared to the moon shining in the sky. Many sects depend on and use this theory, although there are some differences such as that the Tendai sect and Hokke sect Icchi-ha put the same high value on Shakumon and Honmon, while the Hokke sect Shoretsu-ha places a higher value on Honmon of Hokke-kyo in particular, regarding Honmon as the superior part and Syakumon as the inferior part.

Additionally, from the point of Sanbun, Hokke-kyo can be divided into three parts (one sutra of three parts) such as Jobun (Johon), Shojubun (from Hobenbon to the first part of Funbetsuhon) and Ruzubun (from Funbetsuhon to Kanbotsuhon). And if it is subdivided (two sutras of six parts), each Shakumon and Honmon is divided into Jobun, Shojubun and Ruzubun.


The first part is called Shakumon and states that Nijo can become Buddha (二乗作仏) over Mahayana Buddhism, as taught by the Hannya-kyo sutra. Nijo is a person with higher income and good deeds from the living things, and there is a description that a wealthy Bosatsu worshiped Buddha with followers, so that various kinds of people served to embellish Hokke-kyo majestically around Buddha.

Additionally, it showed the teaching of egalitarianism as 'all people can be Buddhas some day' from the values of that time, like 未来成仏(悪人成仏) of Daidatta, and emphasized this through representations such as the appearance of a treasure tower in which Tahonyorai appeared and clarified the correctness of Hokke-kyo, 虚空会 and 二仏並座. There is a viewpoint of 'passion play,' which forecasts that the priests who believe this teaching and are in charge of missionary works are inevitably oppressed by the public, which are common in Semitic monotheistic religions such as Judaism and Christianity.


The last part is called Honmon, which is described in Kuonjitsujo (久遠実成). It mainly states that Shakamunibutsu was not awakened in this world for the first time but had already become Buddha in an immeasurable past time.
This led to a dispute on Honbutsuron (本仏論.)

From the viewpoint of Honmon, Buddha is not simply an individual, historical shaka. Once a life begins to learn the Hokke-kyo sutra, it enters the path of belief despite the difficulties and will open its immeasurable ability. It describes that the way of life itself is called Buddha. Therefore, the length of life is understood to last forever in an immeasurable future over the superficial life and death. Therefore, this corrupt world is a place in which Buddha, who has eternal life, always exists and guides people to relief forever. It describes that the teaching that 'all people can inevitably become Buddhas someday' is not only a logic or an ideal but a fact with a definite promise. Additionally, it describes that the one who hears this dharma (such as Buddha) is an existence having eternal life but can attain large good deeds only by believing it joyfully (一念信解・初随喜).

The subjects of dharma range from Bosatsu to others in all kinds of settings. As a dharma (Buddhism) to guide stupid people during the Age of the Final Dharma, it describes 末法弘教の付嘱 against Jiyu Bosatsus such as Jogyo Bosatsu and the protection of believers of the Hokke-kyo sutra and practical benefit in this world by the force of Kanzeon Bosatsu, etc.

List of the 28 chapters of Myohorenge-kyo

The first 14 chapters (Syakumon)
1. Johon
2. Hobenbon
3. Hiyuhon
4. Shingehon
5. Yakusoyuhon
6. Jukihon
7. Kejoyuhon
8. Gohyakudeshijukihon
9. Jugakumugakuninkihon
10. Hosshinhon
11. Kenhotohon
12. Daibadattahon
13. Kanjihon
14. Anrakugyohon

The last 14 chapters (Honmon)
15. Jujiyujutsuhon
16. Nyoraijuryohon
17. Funbetsukudokuhon
18. Zuikikudokuhon
19. Hosshikudokuhon
20. Jofukyobosatsuhon
21. Nyoraijinrikihon
22. Zokuruihon
23. Yakuobosatsuhonjihon
24. Myoonbosatsuhon
25. Kanzeon Bosatsu Fumonhon (Kannongyo Sutra)
26. Daranihon
27. Myosogenohonjihon
28. Fugen Bosatsu Kanbotsuhon

Hokke Shichiyu: the Seven Parables of the Lotus Sutra

Seven parables are described in the Hokke-kyo sutra. This is based on an episode in which Shakabutsu preached to people using parables, and each chapter of the Hokke-kyo sutra adopts this style in order to be easily understood. This is also called Hokke Shichiyu or Shichihi.

The parable of the three carts and the burning house (Hiyuhon)
The parable of the wealthy man and the poor son (Shingehon)
The parable of the medicinal herbs (Yakusoyuhon)
The parable of the gem and the magic city (Kejoyuhon)
The parable of the gem in the jacket (Gohyakudeshijukihon)
The parable of a brilliant gem in a king's top-knot (Anrakugyohon)
The parable of the excellent physician (Nyoraijuryohon)

Establishment and dissemination

The Hokke-kyo sutra is considered to have been established more than 500 years after Shakuson's demise, and it is generally estimated as dating from 50 B.C. to 150 B.C. in the present study of Buddhism. Therefore, the Hokke-kyo sutra isn't a direct teaching of the historical Gotama Siddhartha (Shaka) as well as other Mahayana sutras, but instead it describes that '外道の論議を説くと謂わん' as mentioned above, that is, in the Age of Final Dharma, more people could not believe the Hokke-kyo sutra and criticize it as a heresy (an idea that was not preached by Buddha, 非仏説). Additionally, there is a theory that this sutra suggested the social situation faced by the religious organizations that edited this sutra.

Moreover, since many episodes such as Hokke Shichiyu (above) are included in the Hokke-kyo sutras, another theory guesses that it was made by a religious organization that had many believers. The philosopher Hajime NAKAMURA guesses that the oldest limit of age when Hokke-kyo sutra was written must be 40 B.C., judging by the situation of a dying wealthy man who took an interest in finance, as described in the parable of the wealthy man and the poor son; because there could not be such a wealthy man who was not only a wealthy man but also a capitalist and was scared by kings and utilized them, unless it was in the age when money economy became much more developed. Additionally, Shoko WATANABE pointed out that it could have been produced in a society that had less influence by Brahmanic culture, judging from the parable that someone who was a garbage man for 20 years was, after 50 years in exile, told that he was the successor of a wealthy man; because there was a strong caste system centered in Brahmin of Indian society since ancient times, so that this parable wasn't realistic.

Dissemination of the Hokke-kyo sutra in Eurasia

This sutra had been disseminated widely in the eastern part of Eurasia before it was conveyed to Japan. There are many editions in Sanskrit, partly because it was widely disseminated in India. In the translation by Kumaraju, it omits mantra (Shingon) and in (印). These are added in 添品法華経.

It was also translated into Tibetan, Uighur, Tangut, Mongolian, Manchurian, Korean (onmun) and so on. These translations show that this sutra had been extensively read and recited.

The Chinese Tendai sect regarded the Hokke-kyo sutra as the most important sutra. Chigi (Tendai Daishi) of Tendai-san Kokusei-ji Temple in Zhejiang, China, depended on the sutra "Myohorenge-kyo" written by Kumaraju.

Dissemination of the Hokke-kyo sutra in Japan

Because there is a piece of plate on which the Hokke-kyo sutra is written at Shosoin in Japan, it seems that the Hokke-kyo sutra has been popular since ancient times.

There is a description in Nihon Shoki that Prince Shotoku had a lecture on Hokke-kyo sutra in the year 606.

The Crown Prince had a lecture on Hokke-kyo sutra at Okamoto Palace. The Emperor was very pleased and gave him about 100 hectares of rice fields in Harima Province.
Therefore, the Crown Prince paid it to Ikarugadera Temple.'
(Vol. 22, Empress Suiko No. 14)

In 615 Prince Shotoku described "Hokke Gisho," a commentary of the Hokke-kyo sutra (see 'Sangyogisho').

Since the time of Prince Shotoku, Hokke-kyo has generally been regarded as a sutra that is linked by fate to Japan from the standpoint of being the guard of the nation as well as one of the most important sutras of Buddhism. The Tendai sect, which was introduced to Japan by Saicho, was greatly admired by the Imperial Court until the Meiji Restoration.

Empress Komyo, who was the empress of Emperor Shomu, built 'a temple that can cancel crimes (法華滅罪之寺(ほっけめつざいのてら)),' calling it a 'provincial nunnery' and believed in the Hokke-kyo sutra.

Saicho, of the Tendai sect, named his sect the 'Tendai Hokke sect' and regarded the Hokke-kyo sutra as the supreme dharma.

The Hokke-kyo sutra played an important role in the new Buddhism of Kamakura. Ryonin, a founder of the Yuzu nenbutsu sect, which recites Yuzu Nenbustu (融通念仏), insisted on the invocation of the Buddha's name as a pioneer of the later Buddhism of Jodo-sect lineage, and regarded the Kegon-kyo and Hokke-kyo sutras as major sutras (正依) but considered the Three Sutras of the Pure Land, the Jodosanbu-kyo sutra, to be minor sutras (傍依). On the other hand, Honen, a founder of the Jodo sect, as well as Shinran, a founder of the Jodo Shinshu sect, and others regarded the Three Sutras of the Pure Land as major sutras because they thought that the relief of an ignorant, deluded person was written in it, but nothing critical of the Hokke-kyo sutra has been seen. It could be said that Kuonjitsujo of Amitabha Buddha was influenced by the Hokke-kyo sutra. Dogen, a founder of the Soto sect, insisted on mediation of '只管打坐' as a way to implement enlightenment but continuously tried to find theoretical evidence in the Hokke-kyo sutra. The sutra he read in dying was Nyoraijinrikihon of Hokke-kyo Sutra.

Nichiren's appearance made a theoretical lineage to try to establish the status of the Hokke-kyo sutra as 'the supreme sutra of Buddhism' and 'the right dharma (正法) (妙法)' appear more radical. Nichiren recited the Nichiren chant of 'Namu Myohorenge-kyo' (唱題行) and became a founder of the Hokke sects by teaching that an ignorant, deluded person could have the ability to become a Buddha through belief in Myohorenge-kyo and could trace the path to true enlightenment. By this teaching, a belief in the Hokke-kyo sutra spread among people throughout Japan. The Hokke sect of Nichiren studies (日蓮教学) placed high value on the five letters of 'Myohorenge-kyo (妙法蓮華経)' in this sutra's title (a formal title of the sutra translated by Kumaraju in Chinese) and considered the recitation of Namu myohorenge-kyo (a chant of five letters or seven letters) as 正行.

During modern times the Hokke-kyo sutra also influenced many writers and thinkers, mainly through Nichiren. It could be said that the common point among modern famous Hokke-kyo sutra believers' lives without regard to leftism or rightism was their unyielding rejection of petit bourgeois glory and the effort to obey only their ideal. It is said that Kenji MIYAZAWA (a poet and author of children's stories), Chogyu TAKAYAMA (a thinker), Giro SENO (a religious thinker), Ikki KITA (a rightist revolutionary) and Kanji ISHIWARA (a warrior and staff person in the Kwantung army) were well-known examples.

After the defeat in World War II in 1945, some sects that believed the Hokke-kyo sutra were forced to change their interpretation on dharma, such as a description on the ability of women to become Buddhas in accordance with the intension of the Occupation Army.

The viewpoint of sects that regard the Hokke-kyo sutra as the essential sutra

Some sects that place high value on the Hokke-kyo sutra as the essential sutra adopt Chigi's teaching that the Hokke-kyo is the secret of Shaka's dharma, 正法(妙法), which was said to be preached by Shaka in his later years.

Viewpoint from the philologist

On the other hand, in the philology there is a theory that the Hokke-kyo sutra was written by a religious organization that was opposed to the monopoly by full-time priests of Hinayana around the beginning of the A.D. epoch or the end of the B.C. epoch.

Response to a result of philology

Considering the results of philology whereby the Hokke-kyo sutra was edited a few centuries later than the age in which Shaka lived, the ways of thinking between Japan and other Mahayana Buddhism countries are different.

According to the traditional Japanese religious sects, Mahayana sutras such as Hannya-kyo, the Nirvana sutra and the Hokke-kyo, which was considered to have been written in a later age by other sects, are not rootless because it's possible for disciples of existent religious organizations to succeed and develop their master's dharma. They tend to insist on such eclectic theories that later sutras can be admitted as 'Shaka's dharma' because they have developed in the process of inheriting Shaka's teaching orally, from disciple to disciple.

There is, however, a theory that the religious organizations and believers of other Mahayana Buddhist countries such as the Eurasian states of China, Nepal, Tibet, Butan, Mongolia, Buryat, Tuva, Kalmyks and Taiwan do not accept this result of philology, which doesn't represent a major problem, but the reason for that theory isn't known.

[Original Japanese]