Frontispiece for the Lotus Sutra

Frontispiece for the Lotus Sutra


late 1100s

Handscroll, gold ink on indigo sutra paper

Image: 27.8 x 81 cm (10 15/16 x 31 7/8 in.); Inscription overall: 27.9 x 1044.9 cm (11 x 411 3/8 in.)

John L. Severance Fund 1970.64



The frontispiece of this sutra, a sacred Buddhist scripture, illustrates episodes mentioned in the Buddha’s teaching. The sutra begins with a description of the historic Buddha Shakyamuni’s assembly on Vulture Peak.

On the right, the Buddha sits amid members of his congregation: lohans (or arhats), bodhisattvas, gods, and other beings. The narrative proceeds from right to left. Heavenly light emanates from Shakyamuni’s brow to “illuminate the eighteen thousand worlds to the east.” Illustrated immediately below the ray is the sutra’s promise that if anyone carves or paints images of the Buddha “they will achieve the Buddha path.”

The female figures in the frontispiece point to another promise made in this popular Mahayana school sutra, namely that female devotees and nuns who read the sutra are promised Buddhahood and salvation.

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