Three Ages of Buddhism

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The Three Ages of Buddhism, also known as the Three Ages of the Dharma, (simplified Chinese: 三时; traditional Chinese: 三時; pinyin: Sān Shí) are three divisions of time following Buddha's passing. The Latter Day of the Law is the third and last of the Three Ages of Buddhism. Mappō or Mofa (Chinese: 末法; pinyin: Mò Fǎ, Japanese: Mappō), which is also translated as the Age of Dharma Decline, is the "degenerate" Third Age of Buddhism.

Three Ages of Buddhism

The Three Ages of Buddhism are three divisions of time following Buddha's passing:[1][2]

  1. The Former Day of the Law, also known as the Age of the Right Dharma (Chinese: 正法; pinyin: Zhèng Fǎ; Jp: shōbō), the first thousand years (or 500 years) during which the Buddha's disciples are able to uphold the Buddha's teachings;
  2. The Middle Day of the Law, also known as the Age of Semblance Dharma (Chinese: 像法; pinyin: Xiàng Fǎ; Jp: zōhō), the second thousand years (or 500 years), which only resembles the right Dharma;
  3. The Latter Day of the Law (Chinese: 末法; pinyin: Mò Fǎ; mòfǎ; Jp: mappō), which is to last for 10,000 years during which the Dharma declines.

The three periods are significant to Mahayana adherents, particularly those who hold the Lotus Sutra in high regard, namely the Tiantai and Tendai and Nichiren Buddhism, who believe that different Buddhist teachings are valid (i.e., able to lead practitioners to enlightenment) in each period due to the different capacity to accept a teaching (機根 Cn: jīgēn; Jp: kikon) of the people born in each respective period.

Further, in the Mahāsaṃnipāta Sutra, the three periods are further divided into five five-hundred year periods (五五百歳 Cn: wǔ wǔ bǎi sùi; Jp: go no gohyaku sai), the fifth and last of which was prophesied to be when the Buddhism of Sakyamuni would lose all power of salvation and a new Buddha would appear to save the people. This time period would be characterized by unrest, strife, famine, and natural disasters.[3]

Latter Day of the Law


Traditionally, this age is supposed to begin 2000 years after Gautama Buddha's passing and last for "10,000 years". The first two ages are the Age of Right Dharma (正法 Cn: zhèngfǎ; Jp: shōbō), followed by the Age of Semblance Dharma (Chinese: 像法; pinyin: xiàngfǎ, Japanese: zōbō).(Hattori 2000, pp. 15, 16) During this degenerate third age, it is believed that people will be unable to attain enlightenment through the word of Sakyamuni Buddha, and society will become morally corrupt. In Buddhist thought, during the Age of Dharma Decline the teachings of the Buddha will still be correct, but people will no longer be capable of following them.


Buddhist temporal cosmology assumes a cyclical pattern of ages, and even when the current Buddha's teachings fall into disregard, a new Buddha will at some point (usually considered to be millions of years in the future) be born to ensure the continuity of Buddhism. In the Lotus Sutra, Visistacaritra is entrusted to spread Buddhist law in this age and save mankind and the earth. He and countless other Bodhisattvas, specifically called Bodhisattvas of the Earth (of which he is the leader), vow to be reborn in a latter day to re-create Buddhist law, thus turning the degenerate age into a flourishing paradise. Shakyamuni entrusts them instead of his more commonly known major disciples with this task since the Bodhisattvas of the Earth have had a karmic connection with Shakyamuni since the beginning of time, meaning that they are aware of the Superior Practice which is the essence of Buddhism or the Dharma in its original, pure form. Ksitigarbha is also known for his vow to take responsibility for the instruction of all beings in the six worlds, in the era between the death of Gautama and the rise of Maitreya.[4][clarification needed] Teacher Savaripa would also live in the world to teach someone.[5]

Teachings of different groups

The teaching appeared early.[6][7] References to the decline of the Dharma over time can be found in such Mahayana sutras as the Diamond Sutra and the Lotus Sutra, but also to a lesser degree in some texts in the Pāli Canon such as the Cullavagga of the Vinaya Pitaka. Nanyue Huisi was an early monk who taught about it; he is considered the third Patriarch of the Tiantai.[8]

The Sanjiejiao was an early sect that taught about Mappō. It taught to respect every sutra and all sentient life.[9][10]

Late Buddhism in Central Asia taught the building of auspicious signs or miraculous Buddhist images.[11][12][13][14]

Pure Land Buddhism in China and Japan believe we are now in this latter age of "degenerate Dharma". Pure Land followers therefore attempt to attain rebirth into the pure land of Amitābha, where they can practice the Dharma more readily.[15][16][17][18][19][20]

Nichiren Buddhism has taught that its teaching is the most suitable for the recent Mappō period.[21][22]

Vajrayana Buddhism taught that its teaching would be popular when "iron birds are upon the sky" before its decline.[23][24][25] The Kalacakra tantra contains a prophecy of a holy war in which a Buddhist king will win.

Theravada Buddhists taught that Buddhism would decline in five thousand years.[26]

Some monks such as Dōgen and Hsu Yun had alternative views regarding dharma decline. Dōgen believed that there is no mappō while Hsu Yun thought mappō is not inevitable.[27][28]

Some Chinese folk religions taught that the three ages were the teaching period of Dīpankara Buddha, Gautama Buddha, and the current era of Maitreya.[29][30][31]


  1. Tzu, Chuang (2012). Fa Xiang: A Buddhist Practitioner's Encyclopedia. Buddha's Light Publishing. pp. 4, 5. ISBN 978-1-932293-55-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Marra, Michele (1988). The development of mappō thought in Japan (I), Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 15 (1), 25. PDF
  3. Marra, Michele (1988). The development of mappō thought in Japan (I), Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 15 (1), 26-27. PDF
  4. The Earth Store (Treasury) Sutra
  5. Masters of Mahamudra: Songs and Histories of the Eighty-Four Buddhist Siddhas (Suny Series in Buddhist Studies)
  6. 初期大乘佛教之起源與開展20
  7. 中國末法思想探微
  8. 佛教末法思想在中國之受容與開展
  9. 佛教末法觀之我思
  10. 再論三階教的歷史定位
  11. 敦煌所见于阗牛头山圣迹及瑞像
  12. 釋迦牟尼如來像法滅盡之記
  13. 圣容瑞像之谜
  14. 刘萨诃与凉州瑞像信仰的末法观
  15. “末法时期,净土成就”佛经出处考
  16. 道綽的末法觀念與淨土門的創立
  17. 「末法」與「淨土念佛得度」考--由道綽《安樂集》衍生的重要觀念之檢討
  18. 仏教の「末法」キリスト教の「終末」
  19. Kyoshin Asano, The Idea of the Last Dharma-age in Shinran's Thought (Part 1), Pacific World, Third Series Number 3, 53-70, 2001 PDF
  20. Kyoshin Asano, The Idea of the Last Dharma-age in Shinran's Thought (Part 2), Pacific World, Third Series Number 4, 197-216, 2002 PDF
  21. 日莲心目中的《法华经》
  22. Asai Endo (1999). Nichiren Shonin's View of Humanity: The Final Dharma Age and the Three Thousand Realms in One Thought-Moment, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 26 (3-4), 239-240
  23. 上师阿弥陀佛修法极乐捷径讲记
  24. 晉美講記(上)
  25. 蓮師預言警世函 ( 附註解 ) 貝諾法王鑑定....
  26. 上座部佛教止观禅法
  27. 佛教末法观的现代意义
  29. 清代教门惑众手法
  30. 清代“邪教”与清朝政府- 正气网 清代“邪教”与清朝政府
  31. 了道金船 三佛通书


  • Chappell, David Wellington (1980). Early Forebodings of the Death of Buddhism, Numen, Vol. 27/1, 122-154
  • Hattori, Shōon (2000). A Raft from the Other Shore: Honen and the Way of Pure Land Buddhism. Jodo Shu Press. ISBN 978-4-88363-329-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Marra, Michele (1988). The development of mappō thought in Japan (I), Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 15 (1), 25-54. PDF
  • Marra, Michele (1988). The development of mappō thought in Japan (II), Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 15 (4), 287-305. PDF
  • Nadeau, Randall L. (1987). The "Decline of the Dharma" in Early Chinese Buddhism, Asian Review volume 1 (transl. of the "Scripture Preached by the Buddha on the Total Extinction of the Dharma")
  • Nattier, Jan (1991). Once Upon a Future Time: Studies in a Buddhist Prophecy of Decline, Berkeley, Calif.: Asian Humanities Press
  • Zürcher, Eric (1981). Eschatology and Messianism in Early Chinese Buddhism, Leiden: Leyden Studies in Sinology

External links