The Chapter on the Duration of Life of the Tathāgata in the Lotus Sutra(Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra) has been regarded as an important chapter. However, the Sanskrit version of the same chapter includes a passage that states, “I have not accomplished my ancient bodhisattvacaryā (bodhisattva’s practice). This passage is not mentioned in the Chinese translation of the Lotus Sutra. The difference between the Sanskrit version and the Chinese translation is what lead me to write this paper.
In this paper, I set up several steps in order to review this incongruity. Firstly, I tried to infer an original passage of the Lotus Sutra. Of the original passage, it can be said that there are two types of readings. The first type is found in two versions of the Chinese translation of the Lotus Sutra, i.e. Zheng-fa-hua-jing (正法華經) and Miao-fa-lian-hua-jing (妙法蓮華經). The second type is found in the Sanskrit matrials of the Sūtra and Fa-huajing-lun (法華經論). The Sanskrit matrials, which include the critical editions and manuscripts of the Lotus Sutra that I use as references in this paper, can be read in the same way. This is to say that they both include the phrase regarding the ‘Buddha’s bodhisattvacaryā.’ And the passage of Fa-hua-jing-lun is the same as the Sanskrit reading. In this manner, I was able to infer the original passage.
Based on the newly understood passage, I tried to also reconstruct the context of the Chapter on the Duration of Life of the Tathāgata. As a result, I can confirm that the passage concerning the Buddha’s bodhisattvacaryā speaks about the Buddha’s saving activities, since enlightenment in the distant past. And the Sanskrit context, which names the Buddha’s saving activities as the Buddha’s bodhisattvacaryā, thus has validity.
Next, I examined the background as to why the passage on the Buddha’s bodhisattvacaryā was written. In the Fa-hua-jing-lun, Vasubandhu(世親) explains that this was the original vow of the Buddha and it therefore identifies the core of the matter. However, this belief regarding the Buddha’s bodhisattvacaryā is not the generally accepted view. For this reason, it was necessary to reveal the characteristic of the original vow of the Śākyamuni Buddha by referring to the Lotus of the Compassion Sutra (Karuṇāpuṇḍarīkasūtra).
The Buddha’s bodhisattvacaryā implies that the Buddha’s unlimited lifespan is indicative of his endless saving activity. The Buddha’s original vow, which is that he would lead all living beings to perfect enlightenment, could be completed via two paths; one being the revelation of the One Buddha-vehicle and the other being the Buddha’s endless bodhisattvacaryā.