Saddharmapundarika Sutra 4

Hello All. Please could anyone tell me if the Saddharmapundarika Sutra 4 (Lotus Sutra) has any parallels of any type in the Pali Canon or Agamas. Thank you.


4? Where does the 4 in the citation come from? Do you mean chapter 4?

And no, it doesn’t, or if it does they would just be stylistic turns of phrases that mark it as Buddhist literature in general, not early Buddhist literature.


Hi Nicola,

The Lotus Sutra as a whole doesn’t have any parallels in the early texts. Nor do there seem to be significant sections that are parallel. Of course, all through the Buddhist literature we find phrases and ideas that are connected. However I don’t believe we have identified any significant parallel passages with the Lotus Sutra; unlike, say the Prajnaparamita Sutra, which contains large portions extracted from the Satipatthana Sutta.

The Lotus Sutra is usually regarded as an early Mahayana sutra, meaning that it was probably written about 1st century CE. While the text underwent a process of evolution, in the form we have it today it was first translated into Chinese in 286 CE.

The Lotus Sutra has a rather specific aim, to establish the Mahayana path as a distinct and superior spiritual path; other forms of Buddhism were “skillful means” to bring people to this highest path.


For the purposes of tracing continuity from the EBTs into Mahayana, it would be an interesting project to track down parallel passages through the Tibetan and Chinese Mahayana corpus such as this. Are there scholars that have begun this project?


I’m only aware of bits and pieces. We have some examples on SuttaCentral, but it surely is not exhaustive.

In the main, the Mahayana sutras do not quote directly from the EBTs, but rather repurpose the language and ideas of the EBTs in new ways. Consider something like the Heart Sutra. The body of the text consists of a series of familiar doctrinal sets—aggregates, senses, dependent origination, etc.—framed in a new way of seeing them. It is intimately connected with the EBT teachings, yet it doesn’t directly parallel any particular text.

So I suspect that cases such as that I noted above are more the exception than the rule, and we will find relatively few genuine parallels in Mahayana sutras. Nevertheless, there will surely be some, and it would be good to know where they are.

Probably a more fruitful area will be the various Abhidharma and commentarial texts. Depending on the style of text, these can contain extensive EBT quotes. Again, some of these, such as the Tibetan Upayika, are well known, while others no doubt remain undiscovered.


Thanks for your replies, very interesting. My specific question is looking at the story of the ‘prodigal son’ which appears to be attributed solely to the Mahayana school in the Lotus Sutra - so was wondering whether the Buddha or any of his disciples during his life actually gave a teaching on the prodigal son. 286 CE - hmmm - maybe overlap with teachings at the time of Christ?

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Hi Coemgenu, it’s just the title I picked up from a text which quoted the story of the prodigal son, I thought to include the reference in full in case it was important. My knowledge of Mahayana texts is scratchy at best!

Have you seen Whalen Lai’s comparison of the two parables? If not…

The Buddhist Prodigal Son’: A Story of Misperceptions

I don’t think there is any comparable story in Pali sources.

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Yes! this is where I started with my question about the origins of the story. Some Buddhist teachers say that the Buddha was the first to teach the story of the prodigal son, and some 500 years before Christ. It seems this is not the case, in fact the timing would suggest the opposite. Thanks for your input, much appreciated.

Stories can pass anywhere and are sometimes largely unconnected to the religions they appear in. The flood myth appears in several unlike religions from different times. A story or parable of a man who wastes his inheritance only to receive it again strikes me as a classic story that would have all kinds of uses and would pop in all kinds of places. Jessus’s employment of a table like this is loosely contemporaneous to it appearing on Mahāyāna literature.

The version in the Lotus Sūtra is missing the older son in the Biblical version, oft interpreted to be the Jews.

Similarly the “punchline” of the story is reversed (which is interesting IMO). Instead of the son who was thought to be dead being alive it is the father in the Lotus Sūtra.

All of the above has no bearing on if two parables come from the same general storytelling tradition.

The is no such fable in the EBTs though, like others have said.

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Could you, Bhante–or anyone else–direct me to where I might find more on those parallels between the Prajnaparamita Sutra and the Mahasatipatthana Sutta? Thank you.