Lotus Sutra

(ca. 100 BCE–200 CE)

Context

At least some parts of the Lotus Sutra were likely composed in a local Indian or Central Asian dialect, which was then translated into a form of Sanskrit (known as Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit) in order to lend it an air of authority and to allow the teachings to be shared with others. The Lotus Sutra’s self-referential claims to transcendent authority and its insistence on the “one vehicle” of dharma—that is, of Buddhist law and teachings—are indicative of some of the disputes and transformations that were taking place within Indian Buddhism at the time of its creation. Between the first century BCE and the second century CE, a diffuse movement was developing that would come to be known as the Mahayana, or “great vehicle.”

Mahayana Buddhists generally reject the traditional Buddhist pursuit of individual nirvana (literally, “extinction”), which implies both a release from worldly suffering during life and liberation from the endless cycle of rebirth (samsara) upon one’s...

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Seated Buddha (Yale University Art Gallery)

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