Buddhism’s history in America began in 1844, when Unitarian Elizabeth Palmer Peabody translated a section of the Lotus Sutra into English for the Transcendentalist journal The Dial. Since then there have been a number of complete translations of the Lotus Sutra, but translation is always an ongoing process and new versions often help reveal things obscured by earlier ones. Many sutras were translated repeatedly into Chinese, for example, with each version providing something new based on the training and viewpoint of the translator (or translation team, as was common in Chinese history). It’s a great thing to hear, therefore, of a new, complete translation of the Lotus Sutra now available from Wisdom Publications.
This new version is translated by Dr. Gene Reeves, who for many years has worked with the liberal Buddhist movement Rissho Koseikai, which focuses on study of and devotion to the Lotus Sutra. The Lotus Sutra has an unusual history in America—due to historical quirks, it has largely become associated with the minor Nichiren Shoshu sect and its 20th century spin-off Soka Gakkai, groups that have often taken an exclusivistic approach to Lotus Sutra interpretation that is at odds with how most East Asian Buddhists approach it. Indeed, the Lotus Sutra is a pan-sectarian text considered core for the Zen, Tendai, and Nichiren denominations, as well as exercising an important influence on the Shingon, Pure Land, and other groups as well. The Lotus Sutra is certainly the single most important scripture in East Asian Buddhism, rivaled only by the Heart of Perfect Wisdom and Larger Bliss Realm Adornment Sutras.