"Next, with regard to the criticism that, when T’ien-t’ai came to the guideline pertaining to the observation of the mind, he set aside his earlier interpretations based on the theoretical teaching and essential teaching, what passage in the Lotus Sutra would appear to support such a conclusion, what commentary by what Buddhist teacher advocates that one set aside the teachings of the Buddha? Even if the interpretation were by T’ien-t’ai himself, if it goes against the golden words of Shakyamuni Buddha and against the Lotus Sutra, then it should under no circumstances be followed. For the Buddha himself warned that one should “rely on the Law and not upon persons,” and from the time of Nāgārjuna and T’ien-t’ai and Dengyō on, this has been the rule.
Furthermore, the point of T’ien-t’ai’s interpretation is that once the great doctrines of the theoretical teaching have been propounded, this means that the great doctrines of the sutras preached prior to the Lotus Sutra are superseded; that once the great doctrines of the essential teaching have been propounded, then the great doctrines of the theoretical teaching are superseded; and once the great doctrines of the observation of the mind have been propounded, then the great doctrines of the essential teaching are superseded. This interpretation is based on the understanding that the basic Law permeating all things is the one Law, the wonderful Law, the unfathomable, and that one carries out one’s practice on the basis of this understanding.
T’ien-t’ai in his interpretation is saying that the reason that now, in the Middle Day of the Law, the practice to be carried out is this practice of observation of the mind, is that, if one were to attempt to approach the truth through the theoretical teaching, that teaching would prove too extensive in content, and if one were to attempt to approach it through the essential teaching, that teaching would prove too lofty ever to be fully comprehended. Therefore these two approaches are not suitable to persons of shallow learning. Hence T’ien-t’ai is recommending that one simply concentrate on the observation of the mind whereby one may observe the wonderful Law within one’s own mind or inner being.
His interpretation does not in any way mean that one is to set aside the wonderful Law. If one were to set aside the wonderful Law, then what would there be to observe within one’s own mind or inner being? Should one cast aside the precious wish-granting jewel and take mere tiles and stones to be one’s treasure?
How pitiful, that the scholars of the Tendai school today, because they allow themselves to be influenced by the teachings of the Nembutsu, True Word, and Zen schools, should misinterpret T’ien-t’ai’s doctrines and commentaries, turn their backs on the Lotus Sutra, and commit the error of greatly slandering the Law!
If you assert that Great Concentration and Insight is superior to the Lotus Sutra, then you lay yourself open to a variety of objections.
Great Concentration and Insight represents a kind of personal enlightenment gained by T’ien-t’ai at his place of practice. But the Lotus Sutra represents the great Law gained by Shakyamuni Buddha at his place of practice. (This is the first objection.)
Shakyamuni is the Buddha of perfect enlightenment and complete reward. T’ien-t’ai gained a stage of enlightenment that did not reach to the first of the ten stages of security; he did not advance beyond the stage of hearing the name and words of the truth, the stage of perception and action, and the stage of resemblance to enlightenment. In terms of the fifty-two stages of bodhisattva practice, he was forty-two stages lower than Shakyamuni. (This is the second objection.)
The Lotus Sutra represents the original purpose for which Shakyamuni and the other Buddhas made their appearance in the world. Great Concentration and Insight represents a personal enlightenment for the revelation of which T’ien-t’ai made his appearance in the world. (This is the third objection.)
In the case of the Lotus Sutra, Many Treasures Buddha attested to the truth of the sutra, and all the emanations of Shakyamuni Buddha who had come to the assembly extended their long broad tongues upward to the Brahma heaven as proof of their agreement. The Lotus Sutra is the great pure Law of which Many Treasures Buddha says, “All that you have expounded is the truth!” [and the emanation Buddhas agree]. Great Concentration and Insight is simply T’ien-t’ai’s exposition of that Law. (This is the fourth objection.)
There are various other ways in which these two texts, the Lotus Sutra and Great Concentration and Insight, differ from one another, but I will omit mention of them here.
To further answer the questions posed above, with regard to the type of persons for whom the teachings were set forth, if you assert that those teachings that were intended for persons of superior capability are of greater worth, then you are saying that one should discard the true teaching and adopt the provisional teachings. That is because T’ien-t’ai stated, “The more provisional the teaching, the higher must be the stage [of those it can bring to enlightenment].”
And if you say that those teachings that were intended for persons of inferior capability are of lesser worth, then you are saying that one should discard the provisional teachings and adopt the true teaching. That is because T’ien-t’ai stated, “The truer the teaching, the lower the stage [of those it can bring to enlightenment].”
Therefore, if you say that the teaching of concentration and insight was set forth for the sake of persons of superior capability and the Lotus Sutra was set forth for the sake of persons of inferior capability, then you are saying that the teaching of concentration and insight is inferior to the Lotus Sutra because it is addressed to persons of higher capability, and that is in fact the truth of the matter.
The Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai was in a previous incarnation present among the assembly at Eagle Peak and heard the Buddha expound [the wonderful Law, which represented] the true reason for his appearance in the world. But when the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai was in the world, the time was not yet right, and therefore he did not expound the wonderful Law, but instead called his teachings concentration and insight. He was among those who had been taught and converted by the Buddha in his transient status, and therefore he did not expound the Law that had been entrusted to those taught and converted by the Buddha in his true identity. The wonderful Law, which teaches the truth outright, he expounded in an alloyed form under the name concentration and insight. It was thus not the wonderful Law just as pit is, but a kind of provisionally clothed form of the Law.
One should understand, therefore, that the type of capability of people for whom the teachings of T’ien-t’ai were intended was like one suited for the provisionally clothed perfect teaching propagated by the Buddha when he was in the world. But the capability of people who are taught and converted by the bodhisattvas who are the disciples of the Buddha in his true identity is one that can directly accept the essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra." -- Nichiren