Six Chinese translations are recorded as having been made of the Lotus Sutra (Skt Saddharma-pun-darika-sutra; Chin Miao-fa-lien-hua-ching; Jpn Myoho-renge-kyo). Among these, the fifth-century translation of Kumarajiva (344-413), the Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law, is considered to be particularly outstanding and is the basis of a number of teachings that spread in China and Japan.
The Chinese Buddhist teacher T’ient’ai (538-597) divided the Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law into two parts: the first 14 chapters, which he called the theoretical teaching, and the latter 14 chapters, which he called the essential teaching. The theoretical teaching records that Shakyamuni first attained enlightenment during this lifetime in India. In the essential teaching, he discards his transient role as the historical Shakyamuni and reveals his true, eternally enlightened identity. The most important doctrine in the essential teaching, T’ient’ai says, is the revelation of this originally and eternally enlightened nature in the depths of Shakyamuni Buddha’s life.
Almost 2,000 years after Shakyamuni’s death, Nichiren, a 13th-century Japanese priest, distilled the profound theory of the Lotus Sutra into a practice which could enable every individual to reveal their Buddhahood, or highest state of life, in the midst of day-to-day reality.
The concluding words of the 16th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, recited daily by members of the SGI, encapsulate the Buddha’s compassionate concern:
“At all times I think to myself. How can I cause living beings to gain entry into the unsurpassed way
and quickly acquire the body of a Buddha?”