Document Type

Contribution to Book

Source Publication

A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy

Publication Date

Spring 4-1-2013


Steven M. Emmanuel




Malden, MA



First Page


Last Page



Comparative Humanities


The Sutra on the White Lotus of the Sublime Dharma (Sk., Saddharmapuṇḍarīka-sūtra; Ch., Miàofǎ liánhuá jīng; Jp., Myōhō renge kyō), commonly known as the Lotus Sutra, is arguably the most influential sutra of Mahāyāna Buddhism, and certainly one of the most revered sacred texts in East Asia. Via parables and short stories, the twenty-eight chapters of the Lotus Sutra indirectly present a number of core doctrines of the early Mahāyāna, the form of Buddhism that first emerged in India and West Asia roughly five centuries after the death of the historical Buddha Siddhartha Gautama (c. 563–486 BCE) and would eventually come to dominate East Asian Buddhism. The Lotus Sutra is a devotional text rather a philosophical one—i.e., it seems intended to work on the level of the emotions and the senses rather than the intellect. And yet, despite its otherworldly aspects, the Lotus Sutra has been employed over the centuries as a political text, both as a tool for maintaining the status quo and—especially in the twentieth century but with a few historical precedents—as an inspiration and justification for political transformation or reform. This chapter explores some of the various ways in which the Lotus Sutra has been understood and utilized as a political text.