National TreasureLotus Sutra in Minute Characters

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  • 細字法華経(一部七巻)
  • 1 scroll
  • Ink on paper
  • Tang dynasty/Chouju 3(694)
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • N-7

This is a copy of the Lotus Sutra translated into Chinese by Kumarajiva (344-413) in 406 and copied by Li Yuanhui in 694. Li Yuanhui was from Chang-an, but little about him is known.

This work, the Lotus Sutra in Minute Characters (J. Saiji Hokekyô), was written on thirty-nine pages of mashi, a paper made of hemp fibers. Each page has fifty-six ruled lines drawn in light ink, with thirty-two characters to a line; seven volumes were copied onto a simple scroll, measuring a total length of more than two meters. The characters are short and minute, at first written precisely and carefully; as the scroll advances, however, they appear distorted, as if having been rapidly transcribed.

This valuable sutra with a jasper-inlaid axis has been stored in a sutra box carved out of a single piece of hollowed sandalwood, split in half. Long handed down at Hôryû-ji Temple, this scroll is said to have belonged to Prince Shôtoku (574-622) and is commonly called the "Honored Companion Sutra" (J. godôbôkyô). This name is based on the legend that the prince was a reincarnation of the great Chinese monk Hui-si (J. Eshi; 515-577), and that he sent a servant to retrieve the sutra, which had been used by a fellow monk (J. dôbô) at the temple in China in his past life.